Dale Hurman explains why things aren't running smoothly at Wycombe
Two matches at Chesterfield in three years illustrate the change experienced by Wycombe Wanderers fans. On April 8, 2000, a 2-1 away win at Saltergate secured our Second Division status for another year and all but condemned the Spireites to relegation. It was a relaxed time to be a Wanderers fan. Within a year, we were taking 19,500 supporters to Villa Park for the FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool. Of course, most went back to whatever had prevented them coming to watch Wycombe before but some stayed. Lawrie Sanchez’s defiant post-match speech to the gathered press harnessed growing expectations. We had also made in the region of £1 million from the cup run. Promotion to the First Division was the new goal.
On March 22, 2003, Wycombe were back at Chesterfield for a 4-0 drubbing. Lawrie Sanchez directed his dejected players towards the away end expecting them to be on the receiving end of the supporters’ scorn, only to find himself bearing the brunt of the criticism. While the players apologised and shook hands with fans, a brief but frank discussion followed that amazed onlookers. Some argue Sanchez has lost the backing of the players – and there can be little doubt that the manager and his board have lost the support of many fans following a series of incredible PR blunders.
The first came when the Evening Standard leaked the news that Wasps rugby union club had been approached about becoming tenants at Adams Park. There was considerable opposition from some Wycombe supporters whose views were simply ignored. Wycombe Wanderers is a company limited by guarantee, with a maximum of 500 members made up of season ticket holders. A board of directors and chairman are voted from the membership to serve the club. Soon after the news broke of the Wasps link up, new chief executive Simon Monkman was tasked with turning our largely middle-class, ex-non-league club into a professional com- pany. Monkman succeeded in securing the tenancy of Wasps, but not before a lot of money was wasted on a legal dispute with Wycombe District Council about non-football use of the ground. Monkman lasted less than seven months in the job, resigning under a cloud of rumour and suspicion that the club was reluctant to dispel.
At the club’s AGM in October, chairman Ivor Beeks revealed that Wycombe would have gone bust by Christmas if the chief executive had continued spending at the rate he had been doing. Meanwhile, Sanchez’s relationship with supporters had begun to sour. The manager had used his last programme notes of the 2001-02 season to regale us with a story of a fictitious little girl who didn’t want to watch Wycombe anymore because of supporters who voiced their displeasure at losing 4-1 to Northampton Town. Last September Sanchez put the blame for a 2-1 home defeat by Crewe at the hands of the supporters, who had protested at the style of football being played by booing and shouting “Hoof!” before, during and after the surrender of a 1-0 lead.
Naturally, this was discussed at the October AGM which soon descended into a bizarre tactical debate. The manager declared that he would immediately cease the long-ball experiment and return to a passing style. Apart from an alarming lack of self-belief, this compromise by Sanchez afforded him a get-out clause that he wasn’t slow to use. After a 4-2 home defeat by Brentford in the FA Cup, the blame was again shifted on to the fans. Commenting on the success of Brentford’s long-ball game he moaned: “We’re not allowed to play that way in Bucks.”
There was further indignation in late December when after a Sean Devine-inspired win over Port Vale had ended a run of four consecutive defeats, the manager announced that he had accepted an offer for the player from Exeter City. Devine had spent 18 months on the sidelines with a knee injury but still scored 46 goals in 101 games for Wycombe. With supporters up in arms, the chairman again showed his PR skills by declaring: “If he hadn’t scored those two goals on Saturday it wouldn’t have created such a fuss.” Since the turn of the year the team’s form has improved enough to suggest that relegation will be avoided. It seems as long as our Second Division status is safe then so is the manager – but we have come to expect a lot better.
From WSC 195 May 2003. What was happening this month