Friday 17 July ~
It's been an interesting, and fraught, month at Wycombe Wanderers. Following promotion to League One, the club's benefactor – Wasps RFC owner Steve Hayes – issued an ultimatum of sorts. He owned 25 per cent of the club but wanted, as the majority financer, to have 100 per cent control. A supporters vote went through last week in Hayes' favour and he is now fully in charge – although not without much squabbling and bitterness from the “no” camp.
Many in the fanbase feel that their club has been taken away from them. Hayes has been portrayed as a bully, who left the Trust with little option but to vote in his favour by hinting that administration could be the end result of blocking his plans. Suspicion has also been raised over his long-term objectives. Hayes's rugby club, Wasps, currently ground share at Adams Park, and fears have been raised that any new stadium would be built with their needs as a priority – potentially leaving the Chairboys rattling round an oversized venue, a la Darlington.
On the flip side, some supporters have felt inclined to back an individual willing to put money into the club. The potential of matching similarly sized clubs, such as rivals Colchester United and Scunthorpe United, in reaching the Championship seeming a worthwhile carrot in exchange for handing Hayes control of the stick. Some argue that a club like Wycombe, whose average gate rarely rises above 5,000, has to maximise the earning potential of its stadium by incorporating facilities, such as the hotels proposed by Hayes, that will generate income seven days a week.
The opposing sides clashed on message boards for the full fortnight from the initial announcement by Hayes to the day of the vote. The upshot is that while Hayes got his way and now has sole control of the club – it's the first time that Wycombe has been owned by one person – deep wounds have been opened amongst the fans. Those opposed to the owner, angry and militant beforehand, have remained vocal in their dissent. Such is the negative attitude on one fan messageboard, Gasroom.co.uk, Hayes took the unusual step of condemning the users in the local press and urging the pessimistic element of the support to be marginalised.
While some fans are now engaged in a more traditional pre-season activity – castigating the designers of the new home kit – the argument looks set to overshadow the start of what should be a very exciting season for Buckinghamshire’s original Football League club. Renewed hostilities with MK Dons and Colchester, the visits of Premier League alumni Leeds United, Norwich City, Charlton Athletic and Southampton, as well as local encounters with Brentford, Millwall and Leyton Orient should give the fans plenty to get excited about – if they can turn their attention back to the football. Steve Wilson