Never before have Wycombe Wanderers played in the second tier, never before have football fans ever considered it. Wycombe Wanderers in the Championship, you must be mad!
Play-off final victory over M40 rivals Oxford United is a dream come true for the Chairboys as moments like these don’t come round often for clubs their size. Yes they won’t have the biggest budget, yes they won’t have the largest ground in the Championship but none of that matters. What matters is the pride, the achievement and “Little Wycombe Wanderers” fans knowing that their team will be playing some heavyweights in English football next season.
Taken over by the Supporters’ Trust in 2012, did they really expect their club to be in the Championship eight years later? Nobody can predict football but predict no more as dreams do come true and it’s down to one man’s management.
You might forgive Gareth Ainsworth if he wanted to chuck away his career in football and start a solid profession in music. He doesn’t shy away from his nickname “Wild Thing” with his rockstar appearance on the touchline. Involvement in bands have evolved but since November 2019, his band The Cold Blooded Hearts even released a recent Christmas single! The longest-serving manager in all four top divisions of English football is fact but the rock ‘n’ roll style of Gareth Ainsworth is the gift that has kept on giving for Wycombe.
A club legend at Preston, Lincoln and QPR previously, Ainsworth will now enter Wycombe folklore as former captain, player-manager turned full-time manager since 2012. Take a look at his trajectory and it’s nothing more than extraordinary.
Three points adrift from safety in the League Two relegation zone in 2014, fans will never forget that final day 3-0 triumph over Torquay United, Football League survival by the skin of their teeth. A vast improvement in 2015 to make the play-offs before heartbreak against Southend in the final via a penalty shootout was for me the turning point. Disappointment losing at Wembley, two more seasons in League Two finishing 13th and 9th, that could’ve been the time to move on and pursue a managerial career somewhere else?
Not a chance and in 2018, promotion to League One for the first time since 2011-12 was well deserved. A step up for the club and the reason why Wycombe’s rise is incredible comes down to defying the odds. The manager linked with a new job at old club QPR, finishing 17th, three points above the dropzone in their first season back in the third tier – relief is one word to describe the rise.
And that brings us to the conclusion of what has been a remarkable 2019-20 League One season. Written off as relegation candidates and nine players during pre-season, Wycombe have been the surprise package and although there were added distractions with Sunderland and Millwall interested to make Ainsworth their manager – he stuck around for what has turned out to be Wycombe’s best-ever season in the third tier.
Coronavirus causing the season to stop, the league table decided by points-per-game, you can argue that had the season continued, Wycombe may or may not have finished in the top six but we’ll never know but that’s the situation we find ourselves in. You cannot deny that they’ve produced some excellent performances across the season with only two home defeats and a small group of talented players who’ve matched their opponents.
Fleetwood Town were brushed aside in the play-off semi-final and although Wycombe rode their luck at times they’re decent scorers at set-pieces, a penalty and Oxford not taking lots of chances in the second half – it was Wycombe’s night. Two teams that have defied expectations in League One this season, if I’m honest neither side deserved to lose.
Credit to Gareth Ainsworth, his players and the supporters. Above and beyond, Ainsworth has defied the odds and more importantly he’s been backed by the fans all the way. Staying with the manager and one of the lowest budgets in League One – what a story and what an example to set for clubs in the Football League who don’t have the biggest stadium or the biggest amounts of cash to spend.
We’ll wait to see how the club fares in the Championship and I’m sure Gareth Ainsworth will relish the challenge no matter what happens. From fighting for their lives in League Two, play-off heartbreak at Wembley, promotion to League One and now promotion into the Championship – the story of Gareth Ainsworth and “Little Wycombe Wanderers” is one incredible journey.
Championship football at Adams Park, Championship football for Mr Wycombe since 2003 Matt Bloomfield, I never thought I’d say that as a football fan.