A Wembley Tale: Behind the scenes on Wycombe’s greatest day

It’s fitting that the final piece of the season should come from a man without whose content none of us would have a clue what’s going on. Wanderers media supremo Matt Cecil was one of the lucky few allowed under the arch. Here’s his story from that night.


My day at Wembley started like pretty much any other. After a restless night due to a wandering mind and nocturnal seven-month-old son, I headed for the door and left with words of good luck from my wife, who knew just how much this day would mean to me one way or the other.

The morning in the office was torturous. Our small band of employees were distracted, pacing the floor, watching the clock and wracked with nerves. Our Chief Commercial Officer Neil Peters and I had a kickabout in the car park to expend some energy, and I set aside some time for the dreaded task of creating a video to mark our success should we triumph under the arch. Only a few days before, I had been haunted by the rediscovery of graphics which had been produced with the intention of posting them across social media in the event of a victory in the 2015 play-off final…

I’d been advised that access to Wembley was available from 5pm so planned a 3pm departure from Adams Park, but I decided it would benefit myself – and more likely my colleagues – if I headed off a little sooner. It was really when I chose the manager’s office for my changing room that the magnitude of the occasion began to hit me. Adorning his walls are images of past glories and messages of inspiration and as I swapped my tracksuit for my wedding suit (waistcoat included), it hit home that we as a club stood on the brink of eclipsing any achievement which is currently immortalised in photos across Adams Park.

Off to Wembley then – a straightforward drive – to meet our photographer Andy Rowland. We sank a coffee from Costa, exchanged pleasantries with Oxford’s wonderful media manager Chris Williams outside, and headed for the rooftop bar at the Hilton hotel where the team had been preparing.

It was strange to see a hotel so quiet and empty. It was stranger to see the walkways around Wembley so sparse with people on the day of a major domestic final. One by one, the tiny number of permitted club guests began to arrive in the bar, but conversations were punctuated by contemplative silences … well, until Pete Couhig arrived, that is. He delved into his bag and passed round bottles of Rebellion to break the ice, an offer not to be turned down.

As 5pm approached, Andy and I made a brisk walk towards the medical screening tent outside the stadium. Only on our way did we learn that a member of staff at another club had recently been denied entry on the grounds of a high heart rate, which struck a little fear into us given the cocktail of coffee, beer and adrenaline that we’d been consumed by.

Temperature checks and health questionnaires have quickly become the norm when attending training sessions and matches, and with relief we were waved through to collect our accreditation to enter the stadium. Andy was made to wait a while, but my red zone access – for the tunnel area – enabled me to make my way into the stadium and begin capturing some content for social media from this unique matchday experience.

The team arrived and headed straight for the pitch to check out their surroundings, while Gareth Ainsworth and Joe Jacobson fulfilled pre-match interview duties with Sky Sports. I did point out to Joe that he’d been selected by Sky for the same role against Tranmere and Fleetwood and scored in both… At this stage, I was taking any positive omen I could find.

Team sheets were swapped, news was broadcast, and the wait until kick-off ensued. The press box is situated in line with the 18-yard-line at the … let’s call it the ‘Jacobson End’ of the stadium and all reporters were sat two desks apart, masks across their faces, with my companions Bill Turnbull and Neil Harman on my right.

The game: What can you say? I was so enthralled by the action and the task at hand of manning the social media feeds that I can’t say I ever really noticed the oddness of an empty stadium for such a huge occasion. The team were performing wonders on the pitch, but also there was an unsung hero away to our left. Cameron Yates was on his feet for the whole game, shouting encouragement and kicking every ball from the stands, having earlier been denied a dream opportunity to warm up with his colleagues by everyone’s favourite two words: EFL protocol. His enthusiasm was picked up on by the BBC Sport live text commentary and admired by those around me in the press box.

So much so that when things got cagey in the second half, I walked over to him to assure him of what a positive difference he was making. The team needed a lift and he duly obliged, supported wonderfully by Bill, who was in fine voice from his seat, earning no doubt a collection of affection and cynicism from the other media guests who may have questioned such a lack of impartiality in a neutral area of the stadium…

In 2015, I was collected from my seat with two minutes to go and escorted pitchside by the EFL’s head of media in order to help coordinate interviews at the final whistle of our final against Southend. It was there, standing in the mouth of the tunnel, that my dreams were shattered in front of my eyes and so I wasn’t prepared to make the same mistake again. I half-sat, half-stood in my seat, urging the referee to blow for full-time, celebratory tweet poised, and leapt with joy as the sound shrilled through the air to cement our greatest ever achievement.

I pretty much stumbled down the awkward steps to the red zone, flashed my pass at a steward and fell into the arms of our kit man Steve Vaux, before just about recovering myself to record some footage, post some content online, point players and the manager in front of cameras and enjoy the moment for myself. I was able to video call my family, who’d been watching together at home, just as the trophy was lifted and wished they – and 20,000 other Chairboys fans – could have been there with me, but this was no ordinary occasion. Chris from Oxford was a true gent; he had consoled me rather than celebrated when they scored a last-minute winner against us last season and the same class was shown when he walked over to me after the game at Wembley.

Gareth’s final media duty was a virtual press conference, conducted mostly with journalists who were in the stadium but not permitted face-to-face contact and instead had to connect to a Zoom link from their seats. Then, after ushering jubilant players off the pitch at the groundsman’s request and unsuccessfully trying to smuggle Marcus Bean into the tunnel to celebrate with the team, I found myself a corner in the changing room to grab my laptop, continue spreading the news and try to make sense of the whole night. Andy and his colleague David Horn had captured so many spectacular photos which have now been viewed millions of times and will continue to be enjoyed for years and years to come.

I left just after 11pm, thanked the EFL staff for their wonderful help throughout the game and the whole build-up too, and collected my ever-so-slightly inebriated colleagues Josh and Ben from Box Park before heading to Marlow for the party. The Ship, fortunately, offered a glimmer of phone signal as the interview requests began rolling in, with the first news crew hoping for interviews at 9am the following morning. They would be so lucky.

I will never take for granted the privilege that my job afforded me in giving me the opportunity to be there at Wembley for this unforgettable occasion. I wanted to get my recollections down in writing before the whole night becomes a blur, and I need to stop now before it turns into an emotional mess.

But I will finish by saying this club has worked unbelievably hard all year and deserves this moment. Wycombe Wanderers is greater than the sum of its parts and I am so proud to have been part of the journey.


 

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