Keep Going Until Your Heart Stops
One of the many positives to come out of last season was the fact that promotion guarantees Wycombe Wanderers will celebrate twenty seasons in the Football League in its 125th year of existence (barring liquidation of course).
Just read that paragraph again. That really is something to celebrate isn`t it? A football club that has spent the majority of those years pursuing amateur glory set to chalk up twenty seasons straight in the Football League. There`s a little bit of glory in that and isn`t it that search for glory that keeps us all going.
There are a wide variety of reasons why we keep rocking up to Adams Park and the glamorous amphitheatres we visit throughout the season. For many it is the company and camaraderie we keep, no better illustrated than in the fancy dress carnival that was Gigg Lane on the penultimate weekend of last season. What followed was a glorious performance that made our promotion possible. Try taking away those memories from the people who were there.
The 2010/11 season was both a historic and record-breaking one for the Blues. The 80-points total is the highest achieved by the club since winning promotion to the Football League. Not only was it enough to achieve a thoroughly deserved promotion, but it was one achieved in some style, like a top hat worn at a jaunty angle and a cravat to match.
It is perhaps a sign of the club's current status that the promotion has not been lauded as it might once have been. A majority of supporters believe the club's natural position, if one accepts that such a thing exists, is in the third tier of English football. Consequently, promotion from League Two wasn`t celebrated by some like the tremendous achievement it really is.
It ought to be remembered that the side won promotion by finishing the season with a ten-game unbeaten run. Whilst some can be found nervously sweating and blinded by fear, Gary Waddock and his squad stood up and were counted.
Many will recall the somewhat flawed theory that recent Wycombe sides always fall away after Christmas and crumble under the pressure. This hypothesis was borne out of the collapse under John Gorman in 2005/06 where external factors had a huge bearing on the pitch. Whether you subscribe to the theory or not, you can scrub out the current squad from the list of victims of the post-Christmas malaise.
One of the greatest virtues of last season's squad was that it was greater than the sum of its parts. Admittedly we were blinded by the almost permanent luminance of Nikki Bull and his performances were the catalyst for many victories. Yet every member of the squad played their part and there is a litany of crucial moments that guided the club to promotion. For me the pivotal game came in January when the side won a battle against Rotherham United at Adams Park to claim a 1-0 win.
The Millers` rugged approach saw Andy Sandell limp off midway through the first half. Yet the character of the Blues side showed inside four minutes when Danny Foster, playing out of position in the absence of Sandell, whipped in an inch-perfect cross for the talismanic Gareth Ainsworth to match it with a textbook header which nestled in the top corner of the net.
In the second half Bull pulled off arguably his save of the season to push Ryan Taylor`s header against the underside of the crossbar. Shortly afterwards Ben Strevens made a crucial headed goal-line clearance to keep out Nicky Law`s free-kick. In a game full of memorable moments and performances, it was perhaps Stuart Beavon`s that stood-out the most. He tormented experienced centre-back Nick Fenton and was only denied a deserved goal when Andy Warrington tipped his stinging volley over the bar.
It was a single game that encapsulated the entire season. A team overcoming adversity with a real togetherness. An abundance of skill combined with the sheer will to win. It has been a hallmark of the team under the stewardship of Gary Waddock and it is something to cherish. It is also the biggest ingredient to success this time around too. Defining that success is subjective but it really should be something we can all agree on. It is simply retaining our League One status for a second season. I say simply, because it is a simple concept but it will be a very tricky task and would be another achievement worthy of celebration.
The Wadfather hasn`t deviated from the formula that has brought him success and he has overseen an understated summer of changes to his squad. More evolution than revolution, it screams of stability; an unglamourous quality perhaps but a necessary one. This is no better illustrated than in the possible starting line-up for the visit of Scunthorpe United to Adams Park in the season opener this coming Saturday. There could be just one change from the eleven men that faced up to Southend United on that glorious day back in May.
Joel Grant is set to start in the place of Kevin Betsy, who is away with the Seychelles for the Indian Ocean Islands Games. Nikki Bull will again provide a formidable barrier between the sticks. Danny Foster and Andy Sandell will be in the full-back positions. Dave Winfield and Leon Johnson could reprise their partnership in the centre of defence, injury notwithstanding. Stuart Lewis and Scott Donnelly will also hope to start where they left off in the middle of the park. The side will be driven by Gareth Ainsworth on the right-wing and Ben Strevens and Scott Rendell are likely to be partnered in attack.
It is a line-up that will provoke debate on the terraces, in the pub and on message boards. It did last season and that won`t change. Some supporters will want to see Marvin McCoy at right-back and Stuart Beavon support Rendell up front. Many have been impressed with the performances of James Tunnicliffe during pre-season and would like to see him start at centre-back. Ben Harding will also be hoping he's done enough to be considered for a place in midfield.
The manager will have used pre-season to confirm his thoughts as to his preferred starting eleven. Results in friendlies are an irrelevance and performances likewise. It is a means to an end and should be viewed in that context. If, as suggested above, Grant is the only summer signing to start against the Iron, it will certainly be interesting to see if Gary Waddock can get the best out of him as he did at Aldershot Town which led to Crewe Alexandra paying £130,000 for his services. One thing is for certain, if we are to avoid relegation this season we cannot afford any passengers.
Scunthorpe United most certainly do not bring the glamour that Leeds United brought on our first home game in League One two years ago but they will certainly provide a real test and in that respect are ideal opponents. They have some exceptional players in their squad, particularly at this level. The centre-back pairing of Cliff Byrne and Michael Nelson is arguably the best in the division. Local boy Sam Togwell will feature in the middle of the park and the former Accrington Stanley duo of Jimmy Ryan and Bobby Grant could also feature.
Despite their strength you can be confident Gary Waddock will not underestimate them. If we play as a team as we did for most of last season, we will give them a good game. Some are a little concerned that we don`t have enough goals in the squad, but then the same was also said last season. But we have the manager, we have the players and we have the determination to keep going until our hearts stop.