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Martin, Martin, give us a wave!

Last week’s international break has brought about jubilant scenes on the streets of Cairo, Reykjavík and Panama City. In stark contrast, as Harry Kane sealed England’s World Cup qualification, large swathes of the Wembley crowd were already on their way home, trying to beat the rush for the tube.

It’s all a far cry from Beckham against Greece. After their routine qualification, made up of insipid performances which failed to banish the memories of THAT defeat to Iceland, I have fallen out of love with the England football team.

However, I enjoyed watching Wales take on the Republic of Ireland in a winner takes all match in Cardiff on Monday. It looked to be an incredibly even contest with perhaps home territory giving the Welsh an advantage. Not a bit of it. As a Wycombe Wanderers fan of a certain age, I knew that there was only ever going to be one winner in this game, and that was Martin O’Neill’s Ireland.

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With a team made up of solid professionals without a superstar amongst them, Ireland negotiated a tricky group to secure a second place play-off spot. In doing so, they were unbeaten on the road. Their magnificent team spirit, coupled with O’Neill’s tactical nous and big match mentality, was there for all to see in Cardiff.

Now, I’ve been known to be partial to a pint of Guinness, but even Andy Townsend is significantly more Irish than me. Nonetheless, I was rooting for the Republic. I have never met Martin O’Neill, but I can safely say that as a result of his magical spell at Adams Park, I would run through a brick wall for him. I’d probably even wash his car every Sunday if he asked me to.

I may well have my nostalgic blue quartered glasses firmly on, but has anyone else contemplated what it would be like to have Martin O’Neill as manager of England?

I think he would be the perfect fit. Throughout his managerial career, O’Neill has seen his teams consistently achieve more than their individual constituent parts would have you believe was possible.

There has been plenty of talk in the media about England not having enough quality players to go far in a major tournament. I have to disagree. Denmark and Greece have both won major tournaments, whilst Leicester City stormed their way to the Premier League title. With belief, a little bit of luck and tactics to suit the players you have at your disposal, the sky is the limit.

Former Chairboy, Keith Scott, who was plucked from the depths of non-league by O’Neill before going onto play in the top flight agrees: “The gaffer had the ability to make individuals and the team believe that the impossible was possible.”

Gareth Southgate has the impossible job. He seems like a nice guy and had a fine and distinguished playing career, but since hanging up his boots, Southgate’s record as a manager has been underwhelming. I truly hope he can prove the doubters wrong and lead England to the latter stages of the World Cup in Russia.

Meanwhile, Ireland will have a tricky play off to contend with before booking any flights, but no one will fancy playing them. As Martin O’Neill said this week: “I have always feared teams, it’s the best way to be. And then we go out and beat them.”

Mine’s a Guinness.

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Gareth Ainsworth post Exeter City

Wycombe manager, Gareth Ainsworth, spoke to me on BBC3CR following the 0-0 draw against Exeter City at Adams Park.

 

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“The door is wide open for Aaron Pierre…”

Has Aaron Pierre walked out of the door at Adams Park, and if he has, will he walk back through it to wear the famous quarters of Wycombe Wanderers once more?

The Chairboys manager, Gareth Ainsworth, talks me through all the pre season chat, looking forward to new campaign and the big kick off against Lincoln City.

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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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The fine margins of League Two

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!

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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