The First Cut is the Deepest
Wycombe Wanderers will be celebrating their twentieth consecutive season in the Football League and their 125th anniversary in 2012/13.
Both are remarkable landmarks and really do deserve to be celebrated. None of our forefathers could ever have imagined what they were starting way back in 1887. To be fair they were probably just glad to get rid of those calico shirts. Those of us who were around back in 1993 when we finally made it into the Football League will remember those heady days with more than just a hint of nostalgia. Remembering the hurt from the previous season just made it an even greater achievement and made for even greater celebrations.
Alas nineteen years on and you get the feeling that our Football League status is now taken for granted. Something which shouldn`t be taken for granted is the fact we still have a football club to support at all. The summer of 2012 will go down as one of the most pivotal in our 125 history. It began with the club something of a rudderless ship under previous owner Steve Hayes. His dreams of a shared community stadium at Booker left smashed to pieces on a Wycombe District Council iceberg.
It has since been revealed that the Wycombe Wanderers Trust began negotiations with Mr. Hayes over ownership of the club as far back as last November. It perhaps illustrates just how difficult a task they faced and how arduous a journey they have been on. There were a number of occasions when it looked the deal was set to go pear-shaped. The consequences would have been disastrous with administration and a ten-point penalty sure to follow.
Fortunately due to the indefatigability of the Trust, most notable joint WWFC Chairman Don Woodward and Chairman Trevor Stroud, ensured the deal was completed at exactly 7.42pm on Friday 29th June 2012 (spot the anal historian!). The Trust negotiated an excellent deal which included the full repayment of the bank loan (c. £1.2m) and a significantly reduced residual debt to Mr. Hayes. It also included the crucial ownership of both Adams Park and the training ground.
It can never be understated just how important the events of the summer were and how the Trust have saved the club. There are many, like myself, who have had an issue with previous decisions made by the Trust but they should be consigned to history now because it is the Trust, through its` membership, that will now create the future for our club. It is up to us to guide it onto bigger and better things. We own our football club. Doesn`t that just sound bloody marvelous?
Of course the change in ownership doesn`t mean everything is now hunky-dory; far from it in fact. The next couple of years are likely to be tough and unpopular decisions will have to be made. It`s all about finding a balance and one of the first aims is to ensure WWFC starts to break even. The annual losses of £1m+ under the previous regime were never sustainable and the Trust has stated their aim is to reach break even by the summer of 2014.
The Trust has already had to face a couple of controversial decisions. The Centre of Excellence was regretfully closed in June due to the prohibitive running costs and consequences from the newly-introduced Elite Player Performance Plan. With just £210k received from the Football Association / Football League, it left a funding shortfall of £435k on total annual costs of £645k. There was also a new two-year tenancy agreement negotiated with London Wasps. Don Woodward did reveal that he was 'unsure as to whether Wasps had made or cost the club money' despite spending several months looking at the accounts.
Another decision the Trust has had to make is to significantly reduce the playing budget from last season`s figure of c. £2.5m following relegation from League One. A cut of approx. one third would leave manager Gary Waddock with around £1.75m to play with as he looks to repeat the feat of promotion following relegation. It would be fair to say however that the chances of that look remote at best and hopeless at worst.
There were a few occasions last season when managers were sacked and there was an almost universal reaction of shock to the news. The same could not have been said had Gary Waddock been one of those casualties. In fact he could consider himself lucky to still be in a job after one of the more depressing seasons watching Wycombe Wanderers since promotion to the Football League in 1993. With 100 goals conceded in all competitions it really was an ordeal only a masochist could take any pleasure from.
By September relegation looked likely and things soon got worse, being knocked out of the F.A. Cup by then non-league Fleetwood Town was one thing but the 6-0 humiliation at the hands of Huddersfield Town, live to the nation on our own patch, was another. The fact that it came on the back of a lamentable defeat at AFC Bournemouth and three weeks later was followed by another debacle at Brentford would probably have been enough for many owners. By that stage of course Mr. Hayes had seemingly lost all interest and Gary Waddock remained in post until an inevitable relegation was confirmed in April.
The summer has seen the Trust reaffirm their total commitment and faith in Gary Waddock. He has another two years left on his contract and there is seemingly little appetite for another change at the top. Wycombe Wanderers as a club should be looking to give young managers the chance to prove themselves and that means giving them plenty of time, even if it means they have to learn from their mistakes.
Sadly it seems Gary Waddock is not learning from his. The player acquisitions over the summer could be described as mixed at best. The squad is heavily overloaded with young, potential talent but none of it is realised yet. There appears to be little strength in depth and perhaps the gravest concern in the attacking threat which looks to be woefully short. Last season`s player of the year Stuart Beavon is the only man in the squad who poses any kind of goal threat and he is very unlikely to be around for much longer.
It all makes for a potential disastrous mix because if the lack of goals are compounded by a return to the horrific defending witnessed last season then a battle to retain our Football League status could become a very real, and very depressing possibility. This will have a significant consequence on the Trust`s aims to break even because there will be many supporters who refuse to pay the prohibitive ticket prices to watch a repeat of last season.
Martin O`Neill was of course the man largely responsible for our rise into the Football League and he was always quick to remind anyone who asked, that the most important thing is putting a winning team out onto the pitch. Success on the pitch means success off it. Ultimately that means having the right man in the managerial hot-seat. Whether Gary Waddock is that man is open to debate and the Trust could be faced with another tough decision to make before too long if results aren`t as hoped.
With so much to celebrate off-the-pitch, it really is disheartening that there appears to be so little to celebrate on it. Of course I have been wrong about many things before. Let us hope I am wrong this time too.