A closer look at WW

Thursday 10 January 2002

Lifelong Fulham fan and well-known football correspondent PHIL MISON looks back, and forward, to our Third Round FA Cup opponents Wycombe Wanderers....

A bulging press section at Adams Park on Tuesday night saw me re-allocated to seating alongside the Directors Box. My view of the game was exactly that of manager Jean Tigana, albeit some 8 rows higher. Having interviewed Lawrie Sanchez pre-season it came as no little surprise to me to see once again he'd prepared a team imbued with great Cup fighting spirit and with a real appetite to sock it to the big boys.

I moved out to Buckinghamshire in 1992 and that same year covered my first game at Adams Park - a 2nd round rousing FA Cup-tie against WBA that also finished 2-2. As on Tuesday there were two divisions between the sides, Wycombe at that time yet to join the Football League.

My next visit was a balmy August evening in 1997 in the company of David Lloyd. Fondly remembered for that Mickey Conroy goal, "legend" Glen Cockerill had left us two complimentaries on the gate. We had the perfect view as Glen broke up a Wycombe raid, played the ball forward 15 yards to Mike, who from right in front of us hit his 50-yarder over the keeper's head. In my opinion a far better goal than Beckham's similar effort at Wimbledon the same year. Incidentally, Glen also floated over the cross for our first headed goal that night.

February 99 and I was sitting high up in the new stand for Lawrie's first game in charge as Wycombe manager, a simple test for his new side - then bottom of Division Two - against high-flying Fulham. Banker away win? Not a bit of it. Another come-from-behind struggle for our boys in an unimpressive display, Kit Symons looping header from a free-kick getting us a point. After that I began watching for Wycombe results and was delighted when Lawrie did just enough, without any expenditure, to beat the drop.

Since then of course, fuelled by the Al Fayed millions, our own fortunes have gone into stellar overdrive. Last Tuesday our paths crossed again - and once again we struggled to get the better of The Chairboys.

Great nickname isn't it? Verco, club sponsors for the past 13 years are a family firm of furniture makers. Factory owner Ivor Beeks is club chairman. High Wycombe is a chummy little town set in a dip in the Chilterns. Four summers ago I started playing village green cricket for the Chiltern Gypsies at grounds in and around the town. Most of my team-mates have supported Wycombe since the non-league days, and of course last year I enjoyed their run to the FA Cup semi-finals along with them. You had to see the town then. A huge banner across the precinct and replica shirts in every shop front. Romancing the Cup - small town Roy of the Rovers stuff.

By now you might be getting the impression I've developed a bit of a soft spot for the club. And why not? Much of their current status and history so mirrors our own. They may be the only league club in the county, but Sanchez bemoans the lack of fans and real football passion around this rugby-playing shire. Most of all he regrets the club's inability to attract their own rich benefactor to propel the club forward.

"We are surrounded by more millionaire homes than any other part of the country. We have the Getty family on our doorstep. I know I cannot get this club into Division One and keep it there on gates under 10,000. Promotion is obviously my aim. If we achieve that our problems really start. We would need to move ground again, up to a new site by the motorway, and hope to expand our fan base by attracting new support from London and the Thames Valley."

I've never seen our message board so busy as in the 24 hours following Tuesday night. As a consequence everyone it seems has had their say on the game, the team, our tactics, the referee etc. I see nothing to be gained by adding my tuppence worth. Suffice to say that the welcome at Adams Park was as cordial as ever, the observations of Wycombe fans around me reasoned, sporting and informed. It was of course their Big Night. Just a bat of the eye ago it was ours in Cup games with Villa, Southampton and Spurs. Our late equaliser robbed the home fans of a great result and another memorable scalp - but I detected no bitterness afterwards. Credit to the Wycombe fans for immediately chanting support after Leggy's opener. Can we start doing the same please? (Also credit to our own supporters who sat throughout in the away section where QPR had stood throughout their league loss(!) in August.

If you find yourself living West of London and unable for any reason to attend the Mighty Whites in future, why not take in a fixture at Adams Park? A great way to stay in touch with the grass roots of the game. And don't be fooled by any paper talk from Sanchez ahead of next Tuesday's replay. The psychology started Tuesday night 10 feet from me. "You normally only get one bite at a Premiership club, we've missed our chance etc. etc." Lawrie Sanchez doing his team down? The man spent his whole playing career tweaking the Big Boys noses.

Tuesday night will be a great chance to give Wycombe a warm round of applause and salute their friendly fans - but only as they troop away after a 5-0 hiding. After that I can go back to quietly rooting for my "second" team.