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Blues miss out on Wembley

29 March 2013

Mike Keen had made progress in his first few months in charge as manager and the good results continued in the 1980/81 season.

Striker Terry Glynn made his debut in a 2-0 opening-day defeat to Leytonstone/Ilford at Loakes Park, but the side improved to finish in third place in the Isthmian League Premier Division.

There was to be no giant-killing in the FA Cup with AFC Bournemouth winning 3-0 in a first-round tie at Loakes Park, and that was followed by a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Sutton United in an FA Trophy second-round tie at Gander Green Lane. The club re-introduced a reserve team at the start of the season and there were changes off the pitch in January 1981 when Reg Williams stepped down and Brian Lee was elected as his successor.

Lee soon courted controversy in April when he decided Wycombe Wanderers should apply for election to the Football League. There was an understanding that only the champions of the Alliance Premier League would apply, thus avoiding the ridiculous situation of more than two dozen non-league clubs applying and diluting the vote in what was already seen as something of a closed shop.

Lee decided to challenge this notion as a protest, with the Isthmian League still not co-operating with the APL. He also wanted to see whether Loakes Park would pass a ground inspection. With only a couple of minor modifications to be made, it passed the test and having registered a protest, the club withdrew its application before the Football League AGM.

Dagenham and Enfield accepted the invitation to join the APL in the summer of 1981 and the Isthmian League realised they would have to join the Pyramid, meaning the Premier Division would qualify for election to the APL. With the departure of two of its strongest clubs, the league was naturally weaker and the Chairboys continued their good form under Keen.

Wycombe Wanderers were offered promotion to the APL in the summer of 1982 after champions Leytonstone/Ilford and runners-up Sutton United both declined the offer, but the club again turned down the opportunity. Defender Anton Vircavs made his debut at the start of the season and he played an integral part as the Blues embarked on an exciting run to the semi-final of the FA Trophy.

Walthamstow Avenue, Hyde United, Bishop Auckland were all beaten before Terry Glynn’s second-half strike sealed a 1-0 win against Kidderminster Harriers in the quarter-final at Aggborough. The semi-final draw wasn’t kind as the Chairboys faced reigning APL Champions Altrincham with the first leg played at Moss Lane.

John King had a goal disallowed for offside for the hosts midway through the first half, before Ken Wilson saw his shot tipped against the bar by home goalkeeper Jon Connaughton. Alty’s Barry Howard had his effort ruled out for offside in the second half, before Wilson gave the visitors the lead with just six minutes remaining after poking the ball under Connaughton. Sadly John Rogers headed home from Howard’s cross in injury-time to salvage a 1-1 draw.

A huge crowd for the times packed out Loakes Park for the eagerly-anticipated second leg a week later. Keen was beset by selection problems with Vircavs only deciding on the morning of the game to play as he was meant to be best man at his brother’s wedding that day! George Borg was suspended and goalkeeper Gary Lester failed a fitness test on his ankle, so Chris Way came in between the sticks. Striker Steve Long did pass his fitness test following a hamstring strain.

The visitors had withstand some early pressure with Connaughton doing well to save from Howard Kennedy, but they soon took control of the game and went ahead after 37 minutes when Rogers headed home. Four minutes later he pounced on a loose ball to smash a 25-yard shot past Way to double Alty’s lead. There was no way back after that and Howard made it 3-0 with four minutes remaining after beating the offside trap.

It was a bitter blow for the club to have missed out on a return to Wembley. They had endured a tough week, losing 1-0 to Isthmian League Second Division Hungerford United in the final of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup at Finchampstead Road, Wokingham. The side then lost away to Sutton United on a Thursday evening before losing at Dulwich Hamlet on the Saturday to end any hopes of an Isthmian League title, eventually finishing in third place.

Declining attendances was a common theme in English football and the average attendance at Loakes Park in 1981/82 was 680. The new season would however be one to remember for many reasons. Peter Suddaby and Steve Perrin both returned to the club for one last hurrah, whilst winger Kevin Keen became the youngest ever player at 15 years and 209 days when he came on as a substitute in a 4-3 league win at Hendon in September.

Left-back Mark Hill made his debut at the start of the season and the Chairboys were more than a little unlucky to lose 1-0 to Third Division Bristol Rovers in an FA Cup first-round tie at Eastville when Hill missed a great chance to equalise late on. There was a marathon FA Trophy second-round tie with Alliance Premier League side Boston United, with the Pilgrims winning 2-0 in a second replay at Rockingham Road, Kettering.

There was embarrassment in the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup when London Spartan League Bracknell Town won a third-round tie 2-1 at Larges Lane, and disappointment in April when the final of the Hitachi League Cup was lost over two legs to Sutton United. Yet in the Isthmian League the team swept to glory, going top of the table after winning 3-0 at Bromley in October, and staying there for the rest of the season.

The Wanderers finished four points clear to record a seventh title and there was much celebration. It was tempered, however, as the club again declined promotion to the APL. It promoted a heated debate about the ambitions of the club and predictably the 1983/84 season was one to forget as attendances continued to fall to record lows.

The Blues were beaten in a FA Cup first-round replay by Chelmsford City at Loakes Park and were then knocked out of the FA Trophy by Southern League Midland Division side Bromsgrove Rovers. They suffered a repeat of the ignominious exit at the hands of Bracknell Town in the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup in a second-round tie in November 1983, and were beaten again by Sutton United over two legs in the final of the Hitachi League Cup.

Just 349 fans watched Harlow Town win 2-1 in an Isthmian League match at Loakes Park on a Thursday evening in April 1984. The side finished in seventh place in the Premier Division and Keen’s contract wasn’t renewed at the end of the season. His position had been under threat since the turn of the year with much speculation following on from a series of disappointing results. There was plenty of gloom and doom amongst the Chairboys faithful, but brighter times would be just around the corner.

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