The recent history of Crawley Town, dominated by convicted criminal Steve Evans and big-spending from the club’s mysterious investors, has tainted their success. But, as Crawley caught the eye of the nation with their FA Cup run this season, a small corner of South Buckinghamshire was looking on with particular interest. Matt Bass explains all.
Crawley’s Argentine midfield maestro Sergio Torres won the hearts of the Wycombe faithful during his spell at Adams Park. Many were devastated to see the likeable star move on. However, while Torres and Matt Tubbs may have grabbed the headlines for the side from West Sussex, Wycombe fans were keeping just as close an eye on another of Crawley’s stars. Midfielder Dannie Bulman may not have raised many eyebrows in the footballing world, but the tenacious, all-action star was part of the Wycombe team that famously upset the odds to reach the FA Cup semi-final in 2001.
It’s hard to believe that the magical run at the beginning of the millennium took place ten years ago – consigned to FA Cup folklore. No one could have seen such a run coming, as the Chairboys became only the eighth side from outside the top two divisions to reach the last four of the famous competition. It started in unspectacular circumstances with a home tie against non-league Harrow Borough. They won with relative ease, before defeating fellow Division Two (now League One) side Millwall in a replay at Adams Park.
Wycombe had never previously been beyond round three, but the Buckinghamshire outfit dared to dream and saw off higher division opposition in Grimsby Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers to make the Fifth Round. Once there, they took Wimbledon – who were soon to be relocated to Buckinghamshire themselves – to a replay. It was at this point where Wanderers might have felt their journey could not get any more magical, but they were soon to be proved wrong. A dramatic 120th minute leveller from Paul McCarthy led to a penalty shoot-out in which the Chairboys – already down to ten men following Michael Simpson’s red card – held their nerve to win 8-7, Bulman scoring Wanderers’ fourth spot kick.
For the quarter-final date at Leicester, Lawrie Sanchez saw his side down to the bare bones and was forced to call on the untried. George Clegg arrived on loan from Manchester United, while a Northern Irish–Ghanaian by the name of Roy Essandoh was recruited through an advert on Teletext of all places. The stage was set for “Roy of the Wanderers”, as he towered above the Foxes’ defence to secure a semi-final date with Liverpool.
Even the most optimistic of Wanderers fans could not have expected much from the Villa Park tie, but the Chairboys stood resolute until the 78th minute as late goals from Emile Heskey and Robbie Fowler ended the fairytale. Skipper Keith Ryan made sure the 20,000 Wanderers fans had something to cheer on their big day out, lobbing a stranded Sander Westerveld to ensure a frantic end to the tie but, ultimately, it was not enough.
That Wycombe team is still held in the highest of regards in the town and their achievements will never be forgotten by the fans. A special dinner event will be held in April to mark the tenth anniversary of the fantastic cup run – the likes of which the club is unlikely to experience again for some time to come.
Many have criticised the FA Cup in recent seasons – suggesting it has lost its magic, the very essence of what makes it so special. Stories like that of Crawley’s give us an apt moment with which to reflect on stories of yesteryear – remembering why so many football supporters love the competition so much.
Dannie Bulman may not have achieved much in his career to compare with the great names of the game, but try telling him that the cup has lost its magic. He is in the privileged position of having enjoyed two FA Cup runs, ten years apart.