A return to Wycombe Wanderers

I hadn’t been to watch Wycombe Wanderers since 1997, when Martin O’Neil was manager and Steve Guppy was flying up the wing being berated by the home fans. Before yesterday that’d been my solitary trip to my hometown club’s new ground. Growing up I’d watched Wycombe at their historic Loakes Park ground with its famous sloping pitch. My grandfather had been an avid Wycombe fan, walking over the hills from Wooburn to Wycombe to watch the blues. My Dad’s cousin, Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman, is still the Wycombe’s all-time record goalscorer and record appearance holder (a ‘bodger’ is a turner of chair legs – chair-making being the traditional industry of Wycombe).

Tony Bodger Horseman of Wycombe Wanderers
Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman – photo Bucks Free Press

We had some Wycombe legends playing for our village cricket club, Wooburn Narkovians, captained by my Dad and where I spent all my summers till the age of 18 – Paul Birdseye who Captained Wycombe for many years (and batted No.3 for Wooburn), Geoff Anthony a Welsh Amateur International (and our wicketkeeper), Howard Kennedy who is among the top 10 appearance makers for the club, and Jack Timberlake who went to school with my Dad and ran the village grocers. Jack also helped set up and run Wooburn Wasps, the youth team where I played from aged 9 to 16. At one time the captain of England schoolboys came to play for us and I got scouted by a number of the big London clubs (we regarded Watford as a London club). This is all background to why I took my youngest son out to Wycombe for his first Wanderers match.

The Little Market House, Wycombe – designed by Robert Adam 1761

It was not only Joe’s first time at Adams Park, but his first proper look at the town of my birth (and where one side of our family can be traced back at least to the 1520s). So on the way to the ground I gave him a quick potted history – the Dial House on Crendon Street where Martin Lluelyn poet and Doctor to Charles I on the scaffold had lived, the Red Lion where Churchill sat astride while campaigning, the Market House marking the distances to London (29 miles) and Oxford (25 miles), the curious ancient stone by the Guildhall that someone suggested could be a mark stone from a neolithic stone circle (there’s another behind the nearby Parish Church). We walked past the old Multi-Racial Centre beneath the fly-over where a number of notable gigs took place in the 70s and 80s, on our way to look at Wycombe College where I did my A-levels. It’s now Buckinghamshire New University. It was interesting to find a plaque on the wall pointing out the original course of the River Wye before it was diverted through a culvert during the 1960s town centre redevelopment.

Paul's Row High Wycombe, August 2021 - the pavement shows the original course of the River Wye before it was culverted through the town centre

A later redevelopment, in the early 2000s, had brought me back to Wycombe to work on an art project with my sister, Cathy, that had been inspired by the scheme. Homesick living in Sydney, I’d searched online for news of my hometown and been surprised to see it unrecognisable from the descriptions of the plans for Project Phoenix. You can read about Remapping High Wycombe project here and download the text I wrote. Our walk through the town confirmed some of our fears of what the resulting Eden Shopping Centre would do to the surrounding parts of Wycombe. Many of the shops were boarded up on Crendon Street and the High Street with its historic medieval market was incredibly sombre compared to what it had been before Eden brought its covered mall to the Newlands carpark. Once one of the most prosperous towns in the country, the Guardian recently reported how it has become a ‘food insecurity hotspot’.

The Wycombe Stone
White Hart Street High Wycombe, August 2021 - photo by John Rogers, the lost byway
White Hart Street

But the spirit of Wycombe is strong, this is the town that started the English Civil War after all. And you can see signs of recovery in the town centre, since my last visit at the end of 2019. We made our way out to Adams Park nestled in the foothills of the Chilterns, and even Joe was beguiled by the sight of the hills rising above the stands. The atmosphere outside the ground was good with live music in the Chairboys Village in the carpark. There was plenty of nose inside the stadium – the Wycombe chants being led by a manic drummer at the back of the terraces who was still there banging that drum long after the final whistle. Sam Vokes, with his 64 International Caps for Wales and 113 Premier League appearances, always looked likely to be the difference between the sides, and his 3rd minute back post header from Jordan Obita’s cross proved decisive. Lincoln City played well, to give them credit, and big David Stockdale pulled off a couple of fine saves to keep the scoreline at 1-0.

Chairboys Village, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021
Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021
Sam Vokes Goal, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021

After the match we walked back into town. Past the Hour Glass where my sister used to drink and my Dad play darts, then down Mill End Road where my Mum went to school. Then we followed Dashwood Avenue all the way back into town as I told Joe stories of Lord Dashwood’s Hellfire Club and showed him the place on the Avenue where we’d brought him to meet my Aunty Carol when he was just a few months old and she was in the final months of her life. Naturally our trip to Wycombe ended with a pint of Rebellion Brewery IPA in The Antelope (well Joe had to have lemonade).