Small Town Dreams

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.

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Myself and J F Cumming 

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

Poker Face

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…

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Pre season. A huge game of poker. 

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Pirates On The Horizon

The Chairboy’s old friends Bristol Rovers are in town, complete with their new Jordanian owners. Both clubs have come a very long way since the climax of the 2013/14 season, and today meet in much healthier positions in the table. With only one point between the two sides and with Rovers on a three match winning streak against the Wanderers, it should be a tasty affair.

I spoke with Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth in the build up to the game

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I also had a chat with midfielder Sam Wood

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Full match commentary will be on Chairboys Player from 2.55pm, whilst build up, team news, reports and a post match interview with Gareth Ainsworth will be on BBC Three Counties across all their frequencies.

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A home from home

Well. Who would have thought a long trip to Plymouth would have resulted in a former Pilgrim scoring from a set piece to claim all three points against high flying Argyle? Even under a different manager, the same defensive frailties were still evident against the Chairboys, as the home side failed to deal with a poorly delivered early corner. And after an almighty scramble in the box, it was Gozie Ugwu who triumphantly rose from the mud to celebrate a much needed strike which he will hope can kick start a run of goals.

Before the game, I enjoyed a chat with a friend who is a season ticket holder at Home Park. As you could only expect from a football fan of a team riding high in the league, his glass was very much half empty. His main concerns were that Wycombe would press the Plymouth midfield high up the pitch and disrupt the flow of the game as in his opinion, that would be how to stop them from playing their game. How right he was!

Armed with an early lead to defend, the Chairboys slowed the pace of the game down at every opportunity and made it a real war of attrition, aided by the combination of a dreadful pitch and an immobile referee in Philip Gibbs. Even with the early loss of young goalkeeper Alex Lynch to injury, resulting in forty six year old coach Barry Richardson going in goal, Wycombe looked comfortable. The only scare for the visitors came near the end of the first half, after Reuben Reid escaped through on goal and appeared to be fouled by Jason McCarthy. Nothing was given however by a referee who struggled to keep a lid on this feisty affair. Shortly afterwards, the board went up to signal the amount of time to be added on to compensate for the Wycombe players receiving treatment. Five minutes!  The Argyle manager, Derek Adams, was furious at this and berated the fourth official to such an extent, Gibbs had to come over to placate the Scotsman. After a short conversation, the board was held aloft once more and proudly displayed nine minutes (a reverse Dolly Parton), although at least one of those extra minutes was used up by Gibbs to transport himself from the centre circle to the touchline and back.

The second half saw Argyle throw everything at Wycombe. I expected the introduction of the excellent Graham Carey at the start of the second half to change the game, but despite some early pressure, the visitors stood firm. Centre backs, McCarthy and Aaron Pierre were superb and in front of them, the returning defensive midfielder Marcus Bean was immense. As the Pilgrims committed more players forward, it was Wycombe who looked the more likely to score as the game came to an end, lighting the blue touch paper in the technical areas on the final whistle…

 

Click here to listen to Wycombe Wanderers manager, Gareth Ainsworth, talking to me on BBC Three Counties after the game.

And to read the post match thoughts of Plymouth Argyle manager, Derek Adams, click here.

The story of the day though was undoubtedly the Wycombe Wanderers debut of Barry Richardson. At the age of forty six, Richardson became the oldest player to represent the Chairboys in the Football League, beating Rob Lee by over six years. I caught up with Barry after the game…

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Powerful Pierre

Ahead of the Chairboys home game against Leyton Orient I spoke to their centre back Aaron Pierre. Fresh from an outstanding set of performances against Premier League Aston Villa in the FA Cup, I asked Aaron about his development so far at Wycombe Wanderers…

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Nobody can argue that Aaron has not grabbed the opportunity of first team football at Wycombe with both hands, and full credit must be afforded to Gareth Ainsworth for securing the youngster on a permanent contract eighteen months ago. His brief loan spell at the end of the 13/14 season (his first ever professional appearances in the FL) highlighted his potential and since then, Pierre has developed from a raw centre back into one of the finest defenders in Football League Two. With pace to burn and strength to match, he is the first name on the team sheet for me at Adams Park.

The big question now is just how long will the Adams Park faithful be able to enjoy watching Aaron Pierre in action? Few would begrudge the Grenadian international a move higher up the league ladder, his attitude/work rate have been superb and he has become one of the key figures in The Chairboys resurgence. He will leave a big hole at both ends of the pitch when the time comes for him to move on. Hopefully, Wycombe Wanderers will be able to command a healthy fee as they look to continue their journey out of the financial woods.

 

The track used in the audio is called P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E by the band Hooton Tennis Club and you can enjoy the full track on the YouTube video below.

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I Believe In Miracles

It was a warm summer’s evening on the 9th August 1990 when Brian Clough brought his Nottingham Forest team to play in the first ever game at Adams Park. Holders of the League Cup and featuring some of England’s heroes of Italia 90, it was a strong side that drew 1-1 against Martin O’Neill’s Chairboys.

Fast forward twenty-one years and to August 2011, Forest were in town again. This time in the League Cup and in a lovely moment of personal symmetry, it was the first game that I ever covered on the radio, calling the action for the patients holed up in Wycombe General Hospital. I remember nervously entering the tiny old press room with it’s constant cloud of steam on the ceiling courtesy of the over performing tea urn, and sat down trying to look like I knew what I was doing there. A bloke piped up and enquired ‘are you local, how are Wycombe lining up?’. I dutifully went through the formation with a little mention to keep an eye out for Jordan Ibe off the bench. As I did so, my mentor Keith Higgins looked on in amazement as I furnished the double European Cup winning John McGovern with my thoughts on the game, completely unaware of who I was talking to.

Brian Clough

We all know about Brian Clough taking Forest from an underperforming second division team to twice becoming the champions of Europe. Jonny Owen’s I Believe In Miracles doesn’t need to tell this story. Instead it shines a light onto the players and characters that made Clough’s vision happen on the pitch, revealing the brilliant sub plots and hilarious incidents which now seem a million miles away from the soul vacuum of the Premier League.

Nostalgic clips of goals and famous Brian Clough moments are excellently interspersed with interview material from the players. The likes of Kenny ‘Kenneth’ Burns, Larry Lloyd and the afore mentioned John McGovern revel in telling the stories behind this great side. Martin O’Neill features heavily too and I found it fascinating to compare the hallmarks of Clough’s success to his wonderful Wycombe Wanderers team of the early nineties. Preparing for massive games with five a sides, walks by the river or running through stinging nettles, it was all gloriously simple stuff that was built on superb man management.

The film takes a simple approach too. There is no narration or tactical deconstruction on how the glory was achieved, just pure unadulterated nostalgia told by the people that were actually there. From the moment the soul funk strains of ‘I Believe In Miracles’ by the Jackson Sisters strikes up in the opening credits, there is a tremendous constant soundtrack of disco, funk and Northern Soul adding further texture to the pictures.

If you were around when it happened and want to relive the magic, or like me, you want to learn more about the greatest club side this country has ever produced, I Believe In Miracles is simply a must watch film.

I’m not sure if Keith has ever forgiven me for not really knowing who John McGovern was. Courtesy of this film, when I see him next I’ll be able to recount that Larry Lloyd’s signing bonus for Forest was a new washing machine, liberated from the City Ground’s laundry room by Brian Clough himself. Wonderful.

For cinema screening information check http://www.believeinmiraclesfilm.com

Out on DVD on and blu ray November 16th 2015

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Living On The Volcano

Here is my article on ‘Living On The Volcano’ by Michael Calvin, from Saturday’s Wycombe Wanderers match day programme…
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“Living on a volcano: any day may be your last”. This is is how Arsene Wenger, currently the longest serving manager in the English game, perfectly describes the precarious nature of being a football manager. The phrase is used as the title of Michael Calvin’s latest book, which charts the progress of twenty managers, all in various stages and levels of their career.
I first met Mike Calvin on that day in Torquay. He was in a no lose situation, as whatever happened, it would provide some superb copy for his column in the Independent. As we all know, it was a magical fairy tale rather than a double funeral that was typed up amongst the scavenging sea gulls in the Plainmoor press box. The following day, in stark black and white, his words also shone a sobering light upon the challenging circumstances that Gareth Ainsworth had dealt with in keeping The Chairboys in The Football League. Shortly after, Mike began work on ‘Living On The Volcano’, and Gareth’s continuation of his fairy tale last season, provides an excellent frame for the book.
The average life span of a Football League manager is seventeen months, and last season there were fifty-seven managerial changes in the top four divisions. We all know their faces, watching and listening to their post match press conferences, but what do we really know about these characters that chose a life of high pressure and uncertainty? The chapter on Alan Pardew is my favourite, learning about his past working on building sites and finally getting his chance to become a professional footballer well into his twenties. This little known background information, coupled with Alan’s own admissions of his flaws and how he is confronting them has completely changed my perception of Pardew. I now find myself rooting for him as I watch Match Of The Day which is a complete turnaround for me.
Perspective on life and the human condition is provided by Martin Ling, who candidly talks through his experiences of the serious illness of depression, his subsequent recovery and rehabilitation back into football. Large parts of the text are purely the words of the managers, but through their trust in Mike, the propaganda of the press room is replaced by personal and insightful stories that provides a fascinating insight in to what makes these people tick and shape their personalities. The book skilfully interweaves these stories as it skips up and down the divisions and in these days of Premier League saturation, it’s wonderful to read and learn so much about the lower leagues.
Ainsworth recently clocked up three years in the job at Wycombe and a few days later, another belch from the volcano removed Steve Evans from the hot seat at Rotherham. This has made Gareth the tenth longest serving manager in the Football League which is a ludicrous statistic. During the time it’s taken me to write this column, Graham Alexander has paid the price for a poor start to the season at Fleetwood. On average it takes a managerial casualty eighteen months to get another job and a chance to rebuild their reputations. Fifty-eight percent of first time managers never get that chance which explains Ainsworth’s voracious work ethic in turning Wycombe’s fortunes around. In fact, Gareth has been working so hard, he told me he hasn’t had a chance to read the book yet!
As a football fan, it has thoroughly enhanced my understanding of the beautiful game.

Available in all good bookshops and on Amazon too.

You can also catch Michael Calvin on the BBC Three Counties Sports Show tonight, talking to Geoff Doyle and Luke Ashmead between 6-7pm. Tune in!

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