Unexpected Rivalries 1: Wycombe, Slough and Colchester
Three years ago, this site was established on the premise that its founders were as interested, in an impartial way, in the goings on at on all Football League clubs rather than just their own. Yet without club rivalries, both longstanding and flash in the pan, football would undoutedly be poorer. Many of these can be tawdry affairs for those unattached to either team, however. This new series, then, seeks to refresh by uncovering some of the lesser known rivalries, pointing readers to their origins and the level of feeling surrounding different clashes. Wycombe fan Kerry Andrew is first up.
Everyone likes a baddie. Someone to boo and hiss at in this great silly panto we call football (or footer, if you’re Hunter Davies — if you don’t read his football column, I mean footer column, in the New Statesman, you really should). Within one single match, that might be the ref, that tall defender who raked his muddy studs over your hero’s lily-pallored legs, or (idiotically, obviously), Patrice Evra for daring to be racially abused. But what’s more satisfying is finding a whole team, set of fans, and hell, the whole town’s fundamental belief system, to treat as villains.
We also like tribalism — it’s surely much of the thrill of supporting a particular club, fashioning songs which make sense only to us, daubing our entire body in sky and navy blue quarters, etc (hmm. Maybe it’s only me who does that). Furthermore, it makes sense that one’s most geographically local club, ideally in the same league has first dibs.
My coming-of-age experience of blood-boiling rivalry came aged 13, in my debut season as a Wycombe Wanderers fan at Adams Park, and one that most supporters regard as our most glorious. Slough Town were not only our local rivals in the Conference, but were tussling with us for the title in 1992-93. On a freezing Tuesday night, 10,000 people somehow packed themselves onto the terraces (ground’s official capacity: 6,000!) for the biggest game of the season, with the silhouettes of those who didn’t get in framing the ground up on the hillsides.
Sandwiched with my dad between large men steaming obscenities and leaning over me to bellow at the ref, it was like being surrounded by a herd of hot, furiously chomping cattle. The game was choppy and vicious, the atmosphere exhilaratingly violent, our thirst for blood more gladiatorial than footbally. Around me, the ‘Dambusters’ march was rousingly, drunkenly ‘durred’, crescendoing momentously to the immortal last line ‘we all fucking hate SLOOUUUGGHHH!’. I don’t imagine composer Eric Coates envisaged that ever being yelled over his imperfect cadence. It was breathless, and brilliant.
We won the Conference that season, going up for the first time in our history to join the big guns, and left Slough Town behind; Slough in turn almost leaving the business of football behind for a bit, being chucked out of the league for conflicting reasons that you can read about here. They are our official main rivals, and even since being in the Football League, you will occasionally hear the Dambusters insult rolled out when fans are feeling at their most cheery.
Someone had beaten us to the League though: Colchester. Back in 1991-92, the U’s had been Rangers to our Celtic as we played in our micro-league of two: losing out only on goal difference with 94 points each. And all WWFC supporters could probably think about that summer was the one point we should have had: at the titanic home match against Colchester on a somewhat gusty day, a 1-1 draw turned into a last-minute disaster, with a freaksome goal from keeper Scott Barrett which bounced over our goalie Paul Hyde’s head and into the net (as well as into A Question of Sport’s ‘What happened next?’ feature). Youch. That season, and particularly THAT goal, fuelled a rivalry that had started back in the dark ‘80s with an FA Cup tie and some crowd trouble, and has never gone away.
Blackguard of the piece in that season, and the next few as we joined Colchester a year later in the league, was white-haired moptop player/manager, Roy McDonough, who gleefully liked to stir up trouble, saying helpful things like ‘it takes two to fight, one to punch, the other to stand there and be punched’ after Colchester fans got their fists out at Adams Park. I remember one spitty trip to their terrible dive at Layer Road, where we away fans had to be penned in until the home crowd had dispersed, and a galling 5-1 defeat at home to them in our fiercest period of rivalry. Our manager, the beloved Martin O’Neill, caused some astonishment when, later at the helm at Celtic, he seemed to compare the gnashing-teeth atmosphere of the Old Firm derby with the little-known, but nicely-rhyming, Blues vs the ‘U’s set-to.
Whenever the twain have met since the early ‘90s as we’ve passed each other up and down the League (Colchester, dammit, having been above us in the Championship for a while), there’s been a rudely healthy amount of mutual taunting. We’ve shared a manager — Paul Lambert, resigning from Wycombe and next popping up at Colchester — and a half-decent striker in Steve McGavin. They have a better celeb-fan: Steve Lamacq, to our, ahem, BBC Breakfast’s Bill Turnbull. For shame!
There’s not much logic in hating a middling team from Essex and rejoicing in their defeats even when they’re in a different league. Even less so when our most recent contests have all been draws, including the 0-0 damp squib of last Saturday, seeing Wycombe mire themselves further into the relegation pigpen. But these things stick. You keep it going purely as tradition, like going to the panto at Christmas time: my friend Big Stu from university is a Colchester fan, and we have a history of half-heartedly trading jibes, whether in student halls or on email; he even got a special dig in my dad’s speech at my wedding, upon which I leapt up and jeered at him in most unweddingly fashion. The other weekend I drove past the Weston Homes Community Stadium, and had to let out an involuntary cat-yeowl and claw the window. Hisssssss.
I’ll leave you with this, as beautiful a song as you’re ever likely to hear, like a Welsh male voice choir on a particularly mellifluous day. Enjoy.
If Kerry has inspired you into penning an equvalent piece on your own club’s surprising rivalries then we’d be pleased to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.