Category Archives: Football

The Long & Winding Road

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.

League 2 has been a funny old division this time around, which was summed up perfectly by the final game of the campaign at Adams Park. Both Wycombe Wanderers and Cambridge United had poor starts to the season, but found themselves on the final day with an outside chance of the play offs. A convincing 1-0 victory was not enough for The Chairboys as the required ‘favours’ elsewhere failed to materialise.
I spoke to an upbeat Gareth Ainsworth, shortly after the final whistle:
An improvement on last season’s league position, points total and goals scored are all positives to take away from a gruelling campaign which also included two significant forays into the cup competitions. A continuation of the poor form from the end of the 16/17 season saw a slow start to the season which ultimately contributed to Wycombe falling just short of the top seven. The unbeaten run through the winter months was exhilarating, but the games mounted up and injuries to key players brought about a slump which was arrested in time for a tilt towards the play offs.
I’m doubtless that some will look at the failure to beat Morecambe away or hold on against ten man Cheltenham at home as the reasons why The Chairboys missed out on the play off party. Quite simply though, the league table doesn’t lie. As Gareth said on the interview:
“You are where you are after 46 games”.
Tottenham Hotspur away was one of those days that reminds you of what a brilliant (and cruel) game football can be. The performance of the team with the noise and passion from the fans was absolutely fantastic, whilst the drama on the day was just unbelievable. Apologies to the people who I made cry with the audio montage of the game afterwards. Here it is again for those of you who may have found it too painful to listen to at the time:
The trip to White Hart Lane was a real highlight of the season for me but there have been many others along the way too. It’s a real privilege to be able to help tell the story of Wycombe Wanderers each week and I hope that the rise of the club continues under Gareth Ainsworth.
Thanks to everyone who has tuned in, tweeted, said hello and stopped for a chat, be it at Adams Park or on the road/train. It’s been a pleasure.
Have a great Summer and, of course, COYB!
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EFL Fans Forum

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Last Monday was the second EFL Fans Forum of the season. It took place at the shiny headquarters of Sky in Osterley and covered a range of subjects, forming part of the EFL’s commitment to engage with supporters across the three divisions.
Former referee and PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) Head Of Community & Engagement, Chris Foy, was very much the star of the show. His interactive presentation set out to change our perception of match officials whilst also explaining some of the recent changes to the laws of the game. It was insightful, entertaining and above all else provided the audience with a great deal of understanding and empathy for match officials. Chris is a credit to football with his natural enthusiasm, love of the game and self deprecating turn of phrase instantly winning over the audience. We also learnt that at the start of the season, each Championship club invested £50,000 to enable Select Group 2 referees to become contracted. This money has been used to help officials in all areas of training including reviewing decisions, psychology and fitness. One can only hope that this sort of thing can trickle down to L1 and L2.
Next was the Sky Sports’ Head Of Football, Gary Hughes. He explained the minimum five week commitment between the broadcaster and the EFL in announcing live television fixtures. This commitment was announced at the start of the 2016/17 season to help give clubs and their fans as much notice as possible ahead of any matches selected for live television coverage. Gary also spoke about his opinion that more access behind the scenes is the key to pushing football coverage forward, but that there is still a large amount of resistance to this from the club managers who want the dressing rooms to remain very much their own private domains. Scott Minto, one of the anchors of Sky Sports’ EFL coverage was also on hand and offered his opinion as a former player throughout the evening’s topics.
We also heard from Paul Snellgrove, the EFL Competitions Manager, who has the unenviable task of putting together the fixture list. Paul went through the process of how games are scheduled, with the main driver being to maximise attendances. He explained that clubs often request that big local games take place on a Saturday so they can take advantage of the bigger crowds and generate more revenue. The flip side of this is the odd game on a Tuesday night being an arduous trip for teams and fans where a low attendance on a Saturday would also have been likely. All the clubs and the police are consulted before the list gets published in June and then the vagaries of cup replays and the weather come into play. It really is a monumental balancing act and I’m sure that Paul has pretty thick skin by now as it is an impossibility to keep everyone happy all of the time! The Q&A at the end of the session was largely taken up by fans asking why Paul thought it was a good idea that their own team had to travel to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night, despite his explanations a matter of minutes before.
On the whole, it was an informative evening with everyone getting an insight into the workings of the EFL and Sky Sports, although the location and start time meant that the attendance could have been higher. It was a nice opportunity to meet and chat with fans of other clubs and it was a Luton Town supporter who hijacked the end of the meeting to deliver his heartfelt best wishes to the Leyton Orient fans who had travelled from East London with the future of their club still in the balance. He spoke for us all.
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It’s magic, you know…

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…

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Wycombe Wanderers 0 Colchester United 2

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.

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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

For mobile & tablet version click here

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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