The start of a new, semi-regular series on Chairboys Central begins with a Blues fan exiled in…Bucks, Berks and Oxfordshire. What’s it like to be prevented from following the game by playing the game? Penn & Tylers Green utlity man James Hancock tells his story.
It’s 3 o’clock on a Saturday and Wycombe are at home. I’m a season ticket holder and Legacy Member. Of course, I should be at Adams Park.
However, I’m actually at Beaconsfield Town’s Holloways Park, Oxford City’s Marsh Lane – or the Atomic Weapons Establishment. From this, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m a nomadic supporter of non-league football with a penchant for nuclear physics – less a Wycombe Wanderer, more an atomic lower-divisions wanderer.
In reality, I play for Penn & Tylers Green FC in the Hellenic League Division One East – not quite as interesting as Atomic Non-League Man, I know.
At the moment, while new floodlights are being sorted for our home ground, Penn are lucky enough to be groundsharing with Beaconsfield Town, hence the frequent trips to Holloways Park. When playing away, we’ve been fortunate to have the chance of playing at grounds like the aforementioned Marsh Lane – where Long Crendon currently play their home fixtures.
Obviously, at our level, grounds aren’t always as nice as those two and recently, we had to travel to the AWE to face Aldermaston on what can only be described as a bog. I suppose that on a site responsible for the design, manufacture and support of the UK’s nuclear warheads, football pitch maintenance isn’t the top priority.
As much as I love playing at the level I do and the uniqueness of non-League football, my Penn commitments have meant that this year, I’ve missed far more Wycombe games than I would have liked – and what a season to have to do so!
In fact, aside from watching the 2-0 win over Tranmere on TV and a couple of games on iFollow, I’ve only seen three Wycombe matches this season. So, instead of witnessing two goals in the last five minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Southend, I was dangerously close to dehydration during a 2-1 loss to Marlow United in the record-high temperatures of the August Bank Holiday weekend. Instead of watching a six-goal thriller where Wycombe impressively shared the points with a very strong Peterborough outfit, I’d travelled to Thame to spend 90 minutes on the bench with an overstretched ankle ligament. Instead of being at Adams Park to experience a last-gasp JJ penalty winner against Doncaster, I was at the AWE.
However, I don’t feel like my playing commitments have meant me ‘missing out’ on those matches. As we all know, a Gareth Ainsworth Wycombe Wanderers side never gives up. You only have to look at what our former ‘keeper Scott Brown said of him in a recent Port Vale Supporters Club Q&A: “[Gareth] makes you want to run through brick walls for him on a Saturday.” I have no doubt that Gaz’s instilling the players with this mindset is what has led to so many incredible late comebacks during his seven years in charge. I don’t envisage the squad ever losing this never-say-die attitude for as long as Gaz is at the helm and this is why I don’t feel like I missed out on the Southend, Peterborough and Doncaster matches – I know there’ll be plenty more like them in the future.
What I do feel a great sense of regret at missing is this season’s miraculous revolution which could possibly never be bettered. Only five-and-a-half years ago, Wycombe stayed in the Football League by the barest of margins. Now, we’re top of League One by seven points, have only lost once all season, and have all but officially been taken over by probably the most down-to-earth and genuine owners I’ve ever come across in football (it was a no-brainer to vote in favour of the Couhigs’ investment and I’m so proud to say that I played a hand in this extremely significant point in Wycombe’s history). This whole thing is unfathomable and of course it had to happen this season, when my attendance has been the lowest it’s been since before Gareth even arrived as a loanee in 2009 – typical!
Yet even Wycombe’s miraculous season could not make me give up playing and I make no apologies for putting Penn first. Since the age of five, playing football has been at the centre of my life and for some time, it was even a viable career option. I simply couldn’t be without it, even if it means regularly being absent from my beloved Adams Park.
Thankfully, it’s not always one or the other! Occasionally, I have a Penn-free matchday and as luck would have it, these have coincided with the wins over Portsmouth and Sunderland – and less fortunately, the walloping by Coventry. To be beating the likes of Sunderland so assuredly shows not only far they’ve fallen but just how far Wycombe have come – and long may it continue, whether I’m there to witness it or not.