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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Cheery Os

After a lengthy hiatus, caused mainly by the day job and moving house twice, this blog is back to once again pollute the world wide web.

With Wembley heart ache banished by some excellent early results, hopes and expectations remain high in South Bucks. However, the upcoming run of fixtures, starting with a visit to top of the table Leyton Orient, will be the real litmus test on how Gareth Ainsworth’s small squad will fare this season. Injuries have come early this time around, but encouragingly, the results and performances seem to remain consistent. Even in defeat against an impressive Plymouth Argyle, The Chairboys performance was good and on another day they would have taken something from the game.

After a very bizarre season which ended in relegation from League One, Leyton Orient appear to have found some stability under the steady hand of Ian Hendon. They currently lead the way in League Two after winning their opening five games of the season and Gareth Ainsworth has described the game as ‘David vs Goliath’.

Here is my pre match interview with Gareth for BBC Three Counties…

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In fifteen competitive meetings between the two clubs, there has never been a draw. The Os are yet to concede a goal at home, whilst the Chairboys backline has not been breached on the road. What price a history making 0-0? (8-1 on Paddy Power). However, before you start mentally spending your winnings, it’s probably worth taking note that Orient have scored in the last eight league meetings against Wycombe. Betting eh? It’s a mugs game kids.

The main dangerman for Orient is the wide man Dean ‘Tiny’ Cox, who is playing in a more central position so far this season, but to great effect. Sean Clohessy getting forward from right back is providing most of the crosses, aimed towards the on song Jay Simpson, who plays the ‘little man’ to the ‘good touch for a big man’ Paul McCallum. Striker Ollie Palmer is pushing for a game and has already notched up two Football League goals against the Chairboys, all be it from a combined distance of eleven inches. They all count though, and Wycombe new boy, Gozie Ugwu will happily snap up a tap in to get himself up and running in the Quarters following an all action debut last Saturday.

A bit like my front room currently, this tie has nothing in it and is a tough one to call. If you are heading to East London tomorrow then have a safe journey. If you can’t make it then you can join us live on Chairboys Player, where myself and Will Vince will be providing full match commentary from 2.55pm

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Wembley preview

We are nearly there! Ever since the final whistle blew at Adams Park to bring the play off semi-finals to a close, the clocks have been pretty much at a standstill. It has been wonderful though to see the online forums/pages buzzing with positive messages, ticket updates and reminisces of Wembley trips gone by. Whatever happens at the home of football, it will bring the curtain down on a wonderful season for Wycombe Wanderers. Be loud and proud and enjoy the game!

I supplied a column in the programme for the Plymouth home leg, attempting to sum up the season. Here is the text…

I probably class myself as both a romantic and an optimist, pretty hopeless on both fronts too. I was struck by both these emotions whilst on the platform at Canons Park tube station last August. With the Summer sun having long dried those joyous tears from Torquay, I found myself enjoying the view of Barnet’s brave new world of The Hive being overlooked by the behemoth corporate arch of Wembley. A new look Wycombe Wanderers had just completed a routine pre season schedule with a narrow win over The Bees, but could they be finishing their season at the home of football on the right? Even for me it seemed unlikely, what with the budget and size of the squad being tiny on both fronts. Yet here we are, just ninety minutes from Wembley and what a season it has been! 

The play offs went from being an unlikely fairy tale to a potential unnecessary nuisance by Christmas, as The Chairboys enjoyed a magnificent start to the season and rode their luck with injuries to the top of the table. Suspensions and injuries cruelly arrived right near the end of the campaign, which coupled with a magnificent late surge from big spending Bury, presented the Wanderers with a ticket to the play off lottery. However, a club record of eighty-four points in the Football League whilst being the second highest scorers in the division with the best away record in the entire country… Not bad for a little club that was on the brink of disappearing all together just twelve months previously.  
At times, it’s been difficult to remember that the club is on a two year plan and operating on a sticky financial wicket. The January sales of Josh Scowen and Paris Cowan-Hall probably cost the club their automatic promotion place, but the money received has helped secure the entire clubs future for the coming seasons with Wasps buzzing off to Coventry. Most importantly, there is a vibrant energy about the club again, tapping into the spirits of past cup glory and the legacy of the Lord Martin O’Neill himself. Gareth Ainsworth has pulled the club together, the players and fans are as one and the results have seen the attendances starting to creep up too. Whatever happens tonight against Plymouth or even at Wembley, the strides made this season have been wonderful to witness and report on. 
I can’t believe I’ve completed my second season in the commentary box too. There have been some great moments along the way. Highlights include; club media man Matt Cecil being chastised live on BBC Oxford for dancing in the press box at the Kassam Stadium, the realisation that Keith Scott is Bobby Davro’s stunt double and Bill Turnbull causing heart attacks across the world by shouting ‘GOAL for Wimbledon’ at the precise moment we were knocked off air as the referee disallowed it. 
A massive thank you to –  Bill Turnbull, Will Vince, Scotty, Matt Cecil, Keith Cummings and the sports team at BBC Three Counties. Most importantly, thank you to all the fans who have been listening and tweeting/texting in, it keeps us all going in those cold faraway press boxes. 
Have a great Summer and enjoy the game. 
COYB!
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Also, BBC Online asked me to try and sum up the massive turnaround of the club in the last twelve months. Arise Sir Gareth…
Just over twelve months ago, Wycombe Wanderers were the width of a cross bar from losing their Football League status. Had results not gone their way, it was a distinct possibility that the Chairboys could have disappeared altogether. Now the boos have been turned in to jubilant Wembley bound cheers and the good old days are returning once again to Adams Park. 
The catalyst for this is the manager Gareth Ainsworth. Many things were stacked against him last season. He inherited a disjointed squad and with no funds it was tough to turn things around, especially as he was still finding his feet in his first full season in charge. It would have been all too easy to blame everything else for Wycombe’s woes but Gareth is made of sterner stuff than that. He came back in pre season with a new outlook and determination but still with no budget, so he changed everything that he possibly could. The dugouts were swapped with the home one reverting to the bench preferred by Martin O’Neill, match day attire for the players was suits and the pitch dimensions became smaller. On the pitch, Gareth cleared out fourteen of the players that nearly took the Chairboys down and only bought eight in. One of the wages for a player was sacrificed to allow a Head Of Sports Science to be appointed which was deemed a big risk but it has certainly paid off with only twenty-two players being used throughout the whole season. 
The calibre of the players joining the club were excellent too. They had to be the right character as well as being able to deliver on the pitch. Every time I interviewed a new signing, without exception and with no prompting from me, Ainsworth was credited as a big reason for joining the club. Capturing proven quality players like Paul Hayes, Joe Jacobson and Peter Murphy was no mean feat last summer following the previous season. Youth has been given a chance too, with Aaron Pierre and Alfie Mawson especially, more than taking their opportunities to shine. 
From back to front the team play in the spirit of their manager and that is why Wycombe Wanderers have turned things around so quickly. Team spirit, unity with the fans and a never say die attitude. Gareth Ainsworth has got the place rocking again.
In a week where the club have been enjoying increased media attention I spoke to Gareth Ainsworth ahead of the trip to the home of football…
Mobile & tablet version here
I also spoke with Nico Yennaris and Hogan Ephraim…
Mobile & tablet version here
Mobile & tablet version here
The other week, before the decisive final league game of the season, I spoke with my good friend and fellow journalist, Brian Jeeves, who is a Southend United fan and reporter. Seeing as the Shrimpers are the team standing between Wycombe Wanderers and League One, I thought it would be rude to not gauge his thoughts again…
Mobile & tablet version here
So, it’s all set to be a tremendous day. If you are coming to the game, come and say hello on Wembley Way as I’ll be there at the BBC Three Counties outside broadcast bus with Scotty.
We’ll also be providing full match commentary, including build up and post match reactions, across all BBC3CR frequencies and Chairboys Player.
For the final time this season… Enjoy the game.
COYB!
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