Wanderers appointed Paul Bence as manager in May 1984 and he was given the brief of rebuilding the side with the aim of winning promotion to the Alliance Premier League, which was renamed as the Gola League.
The club realised they could no longer stand still, but the side made an inauspicious start to the Isthmian League Premier Division campaign, losing 2-0 to Wokingham Town on the opening day before suffering defeats in three of their next four games.
Bence gave debuts to strikers Declan Link and Simon Read, both signed from Staines Town in the close season, and they would go to score 63 goals between them. The side soon started to find its form, although there was disappointment in the FA Cup as Burton Albion, then managed by Neil Warnock, won 2-1 in a fourth-qualifying-round replay at Eton Park at the end of October.
Interest in the FA Trophy ended after a 2-1 defeat to Wealdstone in a second-round tie at Lower Mead in February, but in the league the team was climbing up the table at a rapid speed. Mark West made his debut as a substitute a week before his 18thbirthday in February 1985 and he scored his first goal in a 3-2 home win over Sutton United four weeks later.
The side finished like an express train, winning 16 and drawing two of the last 21 games to finish in third place, six points behind champions Sutton and two points behind runners-up Worthing. Sutton didn’t seek promotion due to problems with their ground and Worthing’s main stand at Woodside Road burnt down in April. That meant Wycombe Wanderers were offered a place in the Gola League and they accepted.
There was more cause for celebration in May 1985 as the Hitachi League Cup was lifted after beating Farnborough Town 5-1 on aggregate, and the Chairboys began their first ever season in a national league full of cautious optimism. The side made a steady start to the 1985/86 campaign, with goalkeeper Gary Lester in fine form between the sticks and Link scoring 11 goals in 19 league matches.
There was excitement in the FA Cup as revenge was gained over Burton to set up a first-round tie with Fourth Division side Colchester United. It would be the beginning of a rivalry that still lives on to this day as West’s third-minute header and a second-half strike from Read sealed a 2-0 victory in front of 3,089 at Loakes Park. There was crowd trouble at the game and it was repeated in the second-round tie with Chelmsford Town, who were also beaten 2-0 at Loakes Park.
There was immense disappointment as Link left at the end of November to work in the United States. Big changes were taking place off the pitch too as the club entered into an agreement with property company Westbruton Limited on Christmas Eve 1985. They would fund the building of a new ground and, upon completion, would acquire Loakes Park for development for £3.4million.
The news was made public in January 1986, which would prove to be a momentous month for the Chairboys. They were unlucky to lose 2-0 at Fourth Division York City in only the club’s second ever FA Cup third-round tie, and following that defeat, Bence left having resigned due to increased work commitments. His assistant, Alan Gane, was appointed as interim manager for the rest of the season.
A cold, harsh winter caused a backlog of fixtures and the situation was exacerbated by an extended run in the FA Trophy. There was a marathon third-round tie with North West Counties League side Leek Town, which was only settled by West’s goal in a third replay at Worcester City’s St Georges Lane. Four days later an exhausted side were beaten 2-1 by Kettering Town in the quarter-final at Rockingham Road.
The Gola League was experimenting with an alternative system which awarded two points for a home win and three points for an away win. The Blues sat in 14thplace in the table after beating Barnet 2-0 at Loakes Park on 15thMarch, seven points above the drop zone. Yet eight weeks of torment were about to follow as the side won just one of its last 14 matches, drawing three and losing 10.
A disastrous 8-2 mauling at Kidderminster Harriers and a 1-1 draw at home to relegation rivals Dagenham proved to be pivotal. Events bordered on incredulity in the penultimate home game of the season against FA Trophy finalists Altrincham. The game was heading towards a goalless draw when, with 11 minutes remaining, defender Graham Pearce inexplicably lifted the ball over Lester and into his own net from fully 30 yards.
The Wanderers finished the season with a goalless draw at home to Kettering and it left Dagenham needing just a point at Runcorn the following day. The hosts were also FA Trophy finalists and they conceded a goal after just 40 seconds when Dagenham goalkeeper John Jacobs scored direct from a goalkick! Runcorn levelled in the second half, but couldn’t force a winner and the game finished 1-1.
It meant Wycombe were relegated on goal difference and 24 hours later their misery was complete when they were beaten 1-0 by local rivals Aylesbury United in the replay of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup final on May Day, with Slough Town fans joining in the gloating at Wexham Park.
There was lots of activity in the summer of 1986 as the club were determined to bounce straight back at the first attempt. Gane continued as boss and his demand for the wage bill to be increased by £100 to £650 per week was granted by the board. It wouldn’t be long before it increased again to £750 p/w and there were changes on the pitch with Anton Vircavs, Bobby Dell and Read all leaving in the summer.
Midfielders Andy Graham and Kevin Durham joined from Wealdstone and Oxford City respectively, but the real headline came in August when the club pulled off a sensational coup with the double signing of central defender Keith Barrett and playmaker Noel Ashford from Enfield for a combined transfer fee of £9,000.
There was also a coup in the boardroom with chairman Brian Lee inviting three local businessmen to get involved in a restructuring of the club. Builder Ivor Beeks, together with Graham Peart and Gordon Richards, formed part of the board of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club Limited, which was activated in October 1986, leaving the old committee sidelined.
There were two woeful defeats in the cup competitions with Southern League Midland Division side VS Rugby romping to a 5-1 victory in an FA Cup fourth-qualifying-round tie at Loakes Park, before Isthmian League First Division side Leatherhead won 1-0 in an FA Trophy first-round replay at Fetcham Grove two days before Christmas.
It was an entirely different story in the Premier Division as the side won their opening eight matches, scoring 21 goals in the process. Keith Barrett was appointed captain when Kevin Collins emigrated to Australia in October, and it was clear that it would be a two-horse race for the title with Yeovil Town. A fierce rivalry began with the Glovers winning 2-1 in a top-of-the-table clash in front of a 3,169 crowd at the Huish at the end of the September.
They would win all four meetings between the two clubs that season, but were rocked when manager Gerry Gow surprisingly resigned in January 1987. In the same month Link returned and scored in a 7-1 thrashing of Walthamstow Avenue at Loakes Park. The side held their nerve to win the final seven league games of the season and the title was won on a never-to-be-forgotten Monday evening at Bognor Regis in April.
A last-minute own goal sealed a 2-1 win and the celebrations could start as the Chairboys won promotion back to the GM Vauxhall Conference. The team would eventually finish nine points clear of Yeovil Town as the championship was won in style, with a total of 101 points and 103 goals scored!
There was more joy to behold in the final of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup as revenge never tasted so sweet against Aylesbury United. Ashford capped a wonderful campaign with the winner in extra-time as the Ducks were beaten 3-2 at the historic Wolverton Park in Milton Keynes.