David Wheeler: “Far too many people like everyone to only occupy one box”

On the pitch, David Wheeler has enjoyed a starring role in Wycombe’s unprecedented ascent to the League One summit. Off it, he might just be one of the most interesting people in the game. So it’s only natural that he becomes the first player to appear on Chairboys Central!

You could hardly have wished for a better start to life as a Wycombe player. Just how does it feel to be a part of this special squad and, so far, this special season? I feel very fortunate that I arrived at Wycombe when I did. It seems that there is a beneficial blend of different qualities and attributes on the pitch and a great respect and camaraderie off of it. We have had a brilliant start, but we all know it’s a game of two halves!

That winner against MK could go down as one of the defining moments of the campaign. How was that for you, and do you think it’s important to have a moment like that to announce yourself to a new set of fans? It is always a relief to get off the mark as an attacking player at a new club, and there’s nothing better than scoring the winner at the death! I don’t think it’s essential, as I think you can win people over with performances over time, but it certainly helps.

You’ve more or less made that right wing spot your own – and the link-up with Jack Grimmer has been one of the many strong points within the side – but there is so much competition for places in attack. That ought to bring the best out of everyone; is that something you’ve noticed here? I think me and Jack complement each other well, and I think he’s been a big reason for our success so far. Strong competition isn’t always healthy, but the respect we have for each other makes it so. I wish I had made it my own; I’ve played everywhere!

If there’s one attribute of yours which fans most often pick out, it’s your aerial ability. Is that something you’ve always naturally excelled at?
I used to do athletics a lot when I was younger and over the years have managed to transfer my high jump skill to football.

In terms of your career as a whole, do you think being released by Brighton at a young age and having to work your way through the ranks has given you a more well-rounded appreciation of the game? I think it ended up being the right path for me. The fact I could pursue my education whilst playing semi-pro, and then learning the game in a nurturing environment at Exeter was ideal. There is no ‘right way’ to do it. Different paths are more suited to different people. It was just as likely that I could’ve dropped out of the game altogether as it was for me to reach a higher level than I have done, if I’d been retained at Brighton.

You are probably in a minority among footballers in being so politically aware and invested. Do you ever find that difficult? Only occasionally when it affects my mood and you can’t explain to people why. But that’s also true of friends and family not in football. Luckily I have a lot of friends outside football who will debate voting systems. Very lucky I know!

In your experience, is it tougher for players to be vocal in that sense the higher up the divisions you go? Take Héctor Bellerín, for example; he’s arguably the most ‘switched on’ player at that level of the game yet seems to receive a backlash any time he openly discusses anything vaguely political. I’m not sure the person’s stature of following matters as much as their ability to sustain high amounts of abuse and not internalise it. It is a shame, but there are still far too many people that like everyone to only occupy one box. They’ll say Lineker and Bellerín should just occupy the football box and nothing else, or Obama should occupy the American politics box and stay clear of Britain’s politics box. People should expect differences of opinion when they voice theirs and even abuse at times, but a footballer may have an interesting perspective on politics just as a postman or a science professor might. It would be a shame to lose that insight.

The reaction to the Arsenal vice-captain’s pre-election Tweet exemplified football’s awkward relationship with politics

Phrases like “Stick to football” often get wheeled out as part of such backlash. Do you think that kind of attitude among sections of fans is standing in the way of the game’s progress when it comes to eradicating discrimination – of all forms? I think it is a factor but certainly not the whole story. Governing bodies in football can certainly do more in terms of education, but their power and influence is limited in comparison to government. If the Prime Minister is using bigoted language, it suggests to the public that respect and equality is not a priority and we are free to follow his lead.

I know you’re passionate about environmental issues. What do you feel the game as a whole can do to make itself greener? The game has a long way to go in cleaning up its act environmentally, but there is hope because I know there is a genuine will there amongst fans to make their club more sustainable and also reduce their own carbon footprint. From plastic and food waste to transport and energy usage, the things that can be addressed are many. Football has a big part to play in the movement going forward, I think.

Are vegetarianism and veganism things you can see continuing to gain prominence among footballers? Do you feel it gives you a significant edge?
Both are becoming a lot more common in football, predominantly for health and performance benefits. I don’t feel drastically different after going from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian diet, but my motivations were environmental mainly. Perhaps veganism will see those performance gains, but sadly cheese is a bridge too far for me at the moment!

Mango kit or cheese kit? 🤔

Finally, what are your hopes as a Wycombe player for the rest of 2019/20? To play regularly and contribute to a successful end result. I’m not going to give you my definition of success!!!

Photos: Ben Prior-Wandesforde
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