Almost a week on from that night at Wembley, I thought I ought to put together some words to at least try and sum up a season of otherwordly proportions…
Describing this feeling to non-football fans – or even just non-Wycombe fans – is a bit like trying to describe the taste of salt to someone who’s never tasted it. Hell, I’m still having a hard time describing it to myself. I still haven’t fully processed what happened 25 miles away on Monday night. Frankly, I think anyone who says they have is lying through their teeth. This could take a while. “Wycombe,” in the immortal words of one Adebayo Akinfenwa, “is in the Championship!”
The big man is an almost impossible act to follow, but let me add to that: Next season, Wycombe Wanderers will be one division below the Premier League. Wycombe Wanderers will play in one of the most watched leagues in the world. Wycombe Wanderers will potentially face two former champions of Europe and nine former champions of England. Wycombe Wanderers will enter the FA Cup at the third round. Wycombe Wanderers are now too good for the EFL Trophy. Ridiculous. But 100% real.
I’ve decided I’m not going to do any end-of-season coverage, as such. Truth be told, it feels completely pointless now. Emotion has taken over and I’m just not in the zone to scrutinise at the moment. It’s time to bask in the glory and look forward to having the time of our lives in the beyond. Equally, it wouldn’t be possible to do this historic achievement justice without under-praising at least one of those who pulled it off. No need for deep reflection, only celebration. These moments – these seasons – don’t come around very often in this game.
I wrote on the eve of the play-offs that it was almost time to stop holding everything up against the sorry situation at the club BC (Before Couhigs) and that the story needed its ending. Well, how’s this for an ending? Time to make a start on the sequel.
The Ainsworth Adventures began in September 2012; book two picked up from the events of 3rd May, 2014; book three is the most hotly anticipated of the lot. Actually, rewind, Gareth would probably prefer a music analogy. His debut went somewhat under the radar but will stand the test of time for its unequably emotional final track; the difficult second album – a breakout epic in which he truly expressed himself – has just gone infinituple platinum; for the third one, he can do whatever the hell he likes and we’ll be all here for it.
And he’s (more or less) keeping the band together! Sido Jombati’s sad departure after six years of devoted, ever-entertaining service may have made a minor pull in the fabric of Ainsworth’s Wycombe, but this summer’s line-up change is more Arctic Monkeys than Sugababes. This was the season that most tangibly demonstrated how special this club is. Almost all of the heroes of 2019/20 are coming with us to the big time.
Is there a club in the country where the bond between manager, players and fans is as unbreakable as it is here? Maybe Coventry – who Mark Robins has taken up from League Two and League One alongside us, of course – and, as I think I’ve said before, probably Sheffield United – to say Chris Wilder has transformed them in his four years in charge would be an understatement. As Wild Thing approaches his eighth anniversary in the Adams Park dugout, we’re building a dynasty.
Eventually, our greatest ever manager (Martin O’Neill’s words and mine) will be presented with an opportunity he just can’t refuse – although Huddersfield’s utterly bizarre sacking of Danny Cowley will serve as a reminder of the staggering short-termism that’s rife in the Championship. I reckon we’ve got him for another couple of years yet, but his successor is already in the building. The “coaching responsibilities” included in Matt Bloomfield’s new two-year deal presumably pertain to his current role with Ipswich’s academy, but can you think of anyone better to step into the gaffer’s snakeskin shoes? In an age when trigger fingers have never been in greater need of E45, we’re playing the long game (yes, in both senses). We have a discernible plan. Clubs like Sunderland and Ipswich find themselves in League One – and could do for years to come yet – because they don’t.
Speaking of Sunderland, Roker Report ran a piece this week wondering if they needed to become more like Wycombe in order to change their fortunes and join us and the other big boys. It’s quite flattering really – although Sunderland under Phil Parkinson already take a direct approach – but they don’t get it. Being “Wycombe-like” isn’t just about what happens on the pitch. The Wycombe way is a culture. The owners back the manager – and, contrary to Twitter opinion, not just in a “sugardaddy” fashion – the coaching team back the players, and the players back each other – as David Wheeler told Chairboys Central before the final. There’s purpose and, integrally, as Wheeler emphasised, respect in everything we do. About the only thing Tony Adams and Ainsworth have in common is their objection to apples: Adams to their physiological consequences, Gaz to bad ones. Over the last 11 months, we’ve seen the power of character perhaps more clearly than ever before. This group is so as one with us that I can’t remember what it’s like to feel alienated as a football fan – and I’m sure we’ve all felt like that at one time or another. That alone is testament to Gareth and Dobbo’s miracle-working. We only sign players who’d insist on buying the first round then pay for the taxi home and ever-so-politely tell you, ‘It’s fine’.
Having to take in the greatest moment in our 133-year history from the sofa was tough, but we won’t have felt weird screaming and shouting and effing and blinding (don’t pretend you didn’t after Fleetwood’s penalty in the first leg) at the telly. “We know in spirit you are there,” said Gaz as he paid tribute to the Wanderers faithful in the build-up to the play-offs. And we knew he knew. We knew the players knew. And in getting their hands on that trophy, they broke the fourth wall. Just in case you hadn’t realised by now, Wycombe Wanderers is not merely a football club; it’s a society – a microsociety for now but one with ever-expanding reach.
For the tale of the regular campaign, be sure to read the Story of the Season series.
Photo: Matt Cecil