Wycombe reached their latest milestone by beating Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, but, despite some in-house fans doing their best to create a semblance of atmosphere, HP12 just isn’t the same without its 12th man.
Fittingly for the chair metropolis, the pre-match chatter at Adams Park was dominated by seating. There was an unfortunate Plymouth Argyle vibe about the newly refurbished press block – strikingly green for reasons no one seemed sure of – but more pertinently, a spot lay vacant on the home bench. I’m not sure Gareth Ainsworth had ever sat down during a game before last week’s draw with Watford, but he didn’t even have the opportunity this time. Having put his back out before that season-awakening result, surgery meant ditching the leather jacket for a hospital gown, and animating the technical area for resting up in bed with iFollow. The Chairboys would chalk up a historic first Championship win without their chief cheerleader.
But that’s not to say the team were without some semblance of support. The incessant thud of a lone drum on the hillside wasn’t audible inside the ground – not from the partially flooded, partridge shit-dotted confines of the main stand anyway – but the fervent motivation of two members of the Wycombe family most certainly was. Pete Couhig, freshly out of quarantine having taken an international break of his own to jet home to the States, could fell every tree from Hillbottom Road to West Wycombe Hill with his Louisiana loudness, but praise must also go to an unsung hero: Ross Barlow, assistant kit man among other roles. Decked out in club hoodie and trackies and positioned close enough to the dugout to give new meaning to “Dobbo’s number two”, his battle cries of “C’MON SCOTTYYYYY”, “YES B [BAYO], and simply “PRESSUUUUURE” were about the only phrases consistently capable of being made out throughout the 90 – the other being the ubiquitous shrieks of “REEEEEFFF” on the other side of the hoardings.
Still, scattered emitters of vociferous encouragement in the emptiness don’t give the place mood. That’s something only a crowd can do. The behind-closed-doors experience is probably most comparable to a stadium tour – without the same sense of the wonder. All there is to wonder about at the moment is when the ‘WWFC’ lettering of the Frank Adams stand will next be obscured by bums on seats; when the terrace is no longer in need of decorating with a tapestry of flags; when we can turn to the away end and be greeted by myriad fingers in various configurations of obscenity (at the moment, off the field, it’s disconcertingly polite).
We’re probably best off bracing ourselves for a whole season without crowds, but that’s where the unbreakable team spirit of Gaz and Dobbo’s Wycombe comes into its own. These guys are all each other’s biggest fans and that culture could mean we ride out football in its COVID-afflicted state better than most. Uche Ikpeazu was so engrossed in the action that he needn’t have done much warming up, at one point in the first half seeming to take off in frustration at one of countless perplexing decisions, letting out a despairing “Fuck’s sake, man” (you and all of us, Uche). There can be few players as lovingly commanding as Jack Grimmer, while Matt Bloomfield and Adebayo Akinfenwa (the former before being subbed on, the latter after being subbed off) looked as coach-like as their boss for the day, Richard Dobson. Everyone’s got everyone’s back here, no doubt about it.
Would a packed house have prompted Wanderers to push harder for a second goal, even if subconsciously? Yeah, probably. The light and dark blue army definitely would have sung their team home loud and proud and applauded every last-ditch tackle, block, interception and well-versed display of Ryan Allsop time-wasting. And the collective roar of celebration at the final whistle would have been one for the ages. As it is, such moments have never felt less momentous.
Being in the Championship is incredible – but it’s also incomplete. No matter what Wycombe achieve this season, it will be defined by what – and who – was missing. Fans need their football – and football needs its fans.