Once were Wycombe Managers
With the Jetstream in alteration, it seems fitting to welcome back the colourful prose of Kerry Andrew – composer and curator of the Fever Bitch blog. Here, Kerry looks back at the household names that have occupied the Chairboys’ chair.
Wycombe Wanderers may be but a nobbut middling sort of team supported by a load of middle-class scout leaders, but we do seem to attract a few names to our humble valley: men who have come from, or gone on to, much better things, whether that be the Premiership, Scottish championships, Europe, or international management. Here are the high and lowlights of our helmsmen since I’ve been a supporter:
Or God, as he’s known in these parts (he could be found on the balcony of my Catholic church, back when I did that sort of thing, with his family at Sunday Mass; I knew that He was in disguise, just checking his Minions were doing his Good Work). The Northern Irish firebrand who led Wycombe through the glittering glory days that fans still get bluey-eyed over in darker moments, and who led with vigour, wit, and unnaturally high, leprechaunish leaps into the air at jubilant moments. We were Martin’s first proper team as a manager, and after taking a run and jump at the Big League for his first two seasons, he got us hurdling and hurtling out of the Conference for the first time and into Division 3 in 1993.
Wycombe fans adored Martin. He was sparky, articulate in interviews, and zealous to the core, an approach surely gleaned from his years under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. Hot-headed and opinionated, he left our best central defender Andy Kerr watching his team from the stand amongst the fans after a transfer row. He was once so furious at a two-footed, teeth-gnashing, sword-in-hand challenge by our gung-ho defender Jason Cousins that he banned him from the ground for a week. He was fined by the FA or sent off numerous times for dissent. And along the way, he took us to Wembley three times, with FA Trophy wins and a play-off final; he gave us great cup games against Coventry and West Brom; and we soared beatifically, as if it were no thing at all, from Division 3 to 2 in a season.
We clung on for dear life to him for as long as we could, and he spurned offers from Bristol Rovers in the early days, and Forest and Norwich City for a bit, but eventually probably got bored with not going up a division a season, and left for a short-lived spell with the Canaries, followed by Leicester, Celtic, Villa and Sunderland. I will always support his teams, and tend to sigh wistfully when he appears as a pundit or in interviews.
No-one, nay not a one, has surpassed Martin O’Neill in both success and diety-ratings. After he left we had to get used to a thing called Not Winning. Alan Smith, known well from Crystal Palace, was very humdrum and the supporters disliked him; we sagged to the bottom of Division 2. John Gregory, who I always thought seemed a bit like a shifty Texas Buick salesman with his oil-slicked hair and crocodile skin suit detail, dragged us by our bootstraps up into some sort of respectability, before dumping us unceremoniously and buggering off to Villa.
It was Lawrie Sanchez, with his air of renegade insouciance (via his captaincy of FA Cup-triumphing, League-hopping Wimbledon) who rode in to sort us out for a bit. He helped Wycombe to a miraculous escape at the end of the 1998-99 season, with a last-minute goal just rescuing us from relegation. I remember this well: my attempts to get down to Lincoln on the train were frustratingly scuppered by signal failures, and I raced back to university in York to hear the glorious denouement announced on Radio 5; we kicked the trapdoor open for York City in the process, who were supported by my very recent ex-boyfriend. In his FACE, etc.
Lawrie blessed us with one of our most memorable periods in the next season, fashioning us in his own image as FA Cup giant killers, which I glorify in rather more detail here. The Great Behemoth Smackdown saw Millwall, Grimsby, Wolves, Wimbledon and Leicester fall by the wayside, and Blues fans’ knock-knees become a-blur as they heard the words ‘Wycombe Wanderers’ and ‘Europe’ in the same sentence across the media.
Part-Mafioso, part Churchillian leader, Lawrie’s astonishing assuredness throughout the run was hugely inspiring to players and fans — he never for a second seemed in doubt that we could win the whole damned thing. Even his most outlandish decision – to hire an emergency striker through the means of an advert on Teletext – amazingly paid off as Roy Essendoh scored the winner against Leicester in the quarter-finals. Like O’Neill, he got sent off more than once for demonic passion tipping over into barely-veiled threats about horses’ heads and the like.
For a short while, I fell slightly in love with Lawrie, and for once, even my dad approved. He took the boys off for a big sun-soaked holiday, and collected them all into a ginormous Sanchez-hug when we finally lost: his deranged belief in our abilities was not quite enough to see us beat Liverpool in the semis. Probably more importantly, he turned the chaps’ heads towards the miry pit of relegation that threatened hard, and got us well out of it by the end of the season. Lawrie also gave us our temporary and incredibly silly mascot the Lucky Wycombe Comanche, bought from a roadside secondhand shop after we beat relegation in 1999, which led to the thudding cod-tribal drums that are still occasionally heard at corner kicks. He went on to respectable success at Northern Ireland and a less happy time at Fulham.
As Lawrie Sanchez’s time drew near, with two less successful subsequent seasons, it was thought by them upstairs to get in a bigger name. No matter that the name had almost no managerial experience and was basically just a big barn door; no, let’s get Tony Adams in! Even I confess to have been excited by the appointment, clearly bedazzled by the shades, expensive suits and five o’clock shadow that comprised this famous ex-footballer. It soon transpired that Tony was far less than the sum of his parts. He had been doing a Sports Science degree at local university Brunel, and methinks he just fancied trying his hand at managing whilst he was in the Home Counties.
We had a false dawn at the start of the season (my old footy friend Vickie, who’d got me into this fine mess of supporting WWFC in the first place, texted me to say a) WWFC were top of League 2 and b) she was getting married. She texted in that order!) but soon lapsed into extreme dullness. El Tone lasted only a year, helpfully dumping us into the newly-christened Coca-Cola Championship League Two; he told the press before he told the board of directors, and gave no reason for leaving. We turned our backs as he closed the door.
There has been a lot of managerial chopping and changing since then, and little shuffling salsa moves over the bottom of League One and the top of League Two, with no manager yet getting to grips with Wycombe and really making a difference, though we’ve had great winning spells under all subsequent leaders. John Gorman has been one of two managers with England international experience (along with Peter Taylor in 2008-9, and who was in charge of Leicester when we’d trumped them in the FA Cup), which seemed much more glamorous to us than Tony Adams.
We had an excellent season under Gorman, with 21 games unbeaten and were top of the pile come March, when hugely sadly, he lost his wife to cancer. This, and the death of our midfielder Mark Philo in a car accident, saw Wycombe quite understandably crumble, and we were massively sorry to see Gorman go at the end of the season. Paul Lambert’s current brilliance at Norwich must make the Wycombe board wish they’d refused his resignation in 2008, after we lost out in the League 2 play-off semis. He’d also taken us to a semi-final replay in the League Cup against Chelsea.
So we’re left with Gary Waddock, who has taken us up again, and seen us go down, establishing the team as true yo-yos. As with many clubs, it’s not easy managing Wycombe, with financial woes galore and a Big Man who’s had a very definite agenda. However, it’s all ‘about turn!’ at Adams Park now: the supporter-led Wycombe Wanderers Trust have just bought the club back from owner Steve Hayes, and Waddock promptly signed six players in a day. With the intention of breaking even, they’ve gallingly had to close our Centre of Excellence, due to the Elite Player Performance Plan pressures. On our 125th anniversary as a club, an intriguing, if shaky, future awaits: but I’m still dreaming of a real character coming in again: a barnstorming, feisty, slightly unpredictable genius who loves this team and will do just about anything, however barmy, to make them WIN.