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12 February 2013

It had long been the dream of those at Wycombe Wanderers to one day become the greatest side in amateur football.

To be able to say as such, the club had to win the FA Amateur Cup, as they did in 1931, and win the Isthmian League title. It had taken the Chairboys 29 seasons, but with the runaway success of 1956, the club could now stake their claim to be just that.

With a side made up of so many magical players, it was no surprise that scouts flocked to the Chair Metropolis to watch the likes of centre-forward Paul Bates, who was the club’s leading goalscorer that season with 39 goals from 40 matches; right-half Geoff Truett, who scored 33 in 39 and outside-right Len Worley, the ‘Stanley Matthews of amateur football’. Bates signed amateur forms with Reading but never played for them, whilst Truett and Worley turned down the overtures of Arsenal and Charlton Athletic in the summer of 1956.

Chairman George Partridge resigned due to business commitments and was succeeded by Eric Webb. The Blues started the 1956/57 league campaign in fine style, winning seven of their opening nine matches and although there was a disappointing exit in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, when Margate won 4-2 at Loakes Park, the team was soon to embark on another run in the FA Amateur Cup.

St Albans City, Clapton and Hounslow Town were beaten in the first three rounds and the Wanderers were drawn away at Ilford in the quarter-final. Five thousand Wycombe fans travelled to East London to make up a 12,000 crowd with torrential rain reducing the Newbury Park pitch to a quagmire, but the game still went ahead nonetheless.

They watched an entertaining encounter with inside-right Cliff Trott twice giving the visitors the lead but the game ended in a 3–3 draw. The replay a week later saw 15,500 people squeeze into at Loakes Park to see the home side win 2–0 courtesy of second-half goals from outside-left Frank Smith and Trott. The semi-final was played at Highbury, scene of the 1931 triumph, and opponents Corinthian Casuals contributed fully to an incredible tussle, which enraptured the 28,197 crowd.

Norman Kerruish gave Casuals a first-minute lead, but Bates headed home to equalise just three minutes later. He gave the Blues the lead on 20 minutes but Jack Laybourne levelled to make it 2–2 on the half hour. Wycombe captain Frank Westley hobbled off shortly afterwards and then they were soon down to nine men when Smith dislocated his shoulder.

Worse was to follow when goalkeeper Dennis Syrett injured himself when he collided with a post but he bravely soldiered on. Westley returned to play on the wing in the second half, and his incredible strength and determination helped galvanise the team. With 20 minutes to go, Bates crossed for Worley to head home to put Wycombe back in front and with five minutes remaining Worley fired home after being put through on goal to give the Wanderers a magnificent 4-2 win.

An incredible crowd of 90,000 were at Wembley on 13 April 1957 to watch the final against hot-favourites Bishop Auckland. The Wanderers fought back to equalise through Frank Smith on 38 minutes after William Russell had given the Bishops a 13th-minute lead, but unfortunately parity lasted just two minutes with Derek Lewin scoring from close-range. 

Warren Bradley grabbed a decisive third goal on 71 minutes to give the County Durham side a deserved 3-1 victory. Thousands of fans greeted the team on their return to the Chair Metropolis despite the defeat and they overcame the disappointment of losing the final to retain the Isthmian League title.

They were dealt a huge blow before the final game of the season, however, when Worley broke his leg playing for the Army whilst doing his National Service. His place on the right wing was taken by Micky Rockell and he played a crucial role as Trott and a brace from Jackie Tomlin sealed a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Corinthian Casuals at Loakes Park to beat Woking to the championship by a single point.

Maintaining such a high level of success was always going to be difficult and so it proved. The loss of Truett to Division Three South side Crystal Palace didn’t help and a third successive title proved to be just out of reach as the Blues finished the 1957/58 season as runners-up, four points behind winners Tooting and Mitcham United.

The side made it through to the third round of the FA Amateur Cup but lost 2-1 to Ilford in front of 9,768 at Newbury Park. However, the campaign did end in success as inside-right Dennis Edwards scored the winner to beat Maidenhead United 1-0 in Berks and Bucks Senior Cup final at Oak Tree Road, Marlow.

Worley returned to action at the end of that season and the 1958/59 campaign proved to be another exciting one. A 3-1 win over Hendon at Claremont Road took the Wanderers into the first round proper of the FA Cup where a crowd of 12,934 saw Fourth Division Northampton Town score two late goals to beat the Blues 2-0 at the County Ground.

The famous Loakes Park gates, which can now be found in the car park at Adams Park, were installed by the Supporters Club in the autumn of 1958 and the Chairboys made an incredible start to the Isthmian League campaign, winning 10 and drawing three of their opening 13 matches, scoring 53 goals in the process! It proved not to be enough, however, as a formidable Wimbledon side sealed the title following a 4-0 win over the Blues at Plough Lane in April 1959.

There were four memorable cup ties played in the month of February, the first two against Barnet in the FA Amateur Cup, with the Bees winning the replay 1-0 in front of 11,000 at Loakes Park after a 2-2 draw at Underhill. It was followed by an unbelievable Berks and Bucks Senior Cup semi-final against Aylesbury United at Chesham. The Ducks led 5-1 at half-time but the Blues fought to draw 6-6 after extra-time.

Sadly Wycombe lost 2-1 in the replay with Rockell breaking his leg during the game. Dennis Edwards’ last game for the quarters came in the replay against Barnet as he left shortly afterwards to turn professional with Charlton Athletic. Yet more history was created in the 1959/60 season when a 4-2 victory over Wisbech Town at Loakes Park saw the Wanderers reach the second round proper of the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history.

Over 5,000 Wanderers fans made the relatively short trip to Watford to make up a crowd of 23,907, but the Fourth Division side recorded a comfortable 5-1 win at Vicarage Road. There was another runners-up finish in the Isthmian League, with Tooting and Mitcham United finishing one point ahead at the top, having done the league double over the Chairboys.

Wycombe Wanderers retained the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup, beating Maidenhead United 3-0 in the final at Elm Park, Reading, but there was a growing sense that it was the beginning of the end of a golden era with the likes of Dennis Syrett, Jim Moring and Jim Truett all playing their last games for the club as the “swinging sixties” began.

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