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!
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
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.
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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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.
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.
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