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More glory in Blues' amateur swansong

12 March 2013

There was dismay in the summer of 1973 when influential captain John Delaney, aged 31, left the club to turn professional with Third Division side AFC Bournemouth.

Manager Brian Lee brought in left-winger Steve Perrin, who was soon converted to a striker, and he formed a lethal triumvirate with Tony Horseman and Keith Searle in the 1973/74 season as the Chairboys looked to reclaim the Isthmian League title.

Perrin made his debut in a 3-1 opening-day victory over Ilford at Newbury Park, with the league creating history as the first to be sponsored (by Rothmans) whilst also becoming the first to introduce three points for a win. More history was made in the FA Cup as the side successfully negotiated the qualifying rounds to be drawn at home to Fourth Division side Newport County in the first round proper.

A brace from Perrin and another from striker Dylan Evans in space of nine second-half minutes did for the Welshmen in front of 6,888 at Loakes Park. It was the first time the Chairboys had become giant-killers and beaten a Football League club. Sadly there was to be no repeat in the second round as Fourth Division Peterborough United won 3-1 in front of 10,200 at Loakes Park.

It was a historic season for yet another reason with the FACouncil having decided toabolish the official distinction between amateurs and professionals. It would therefore be the last season for the FA Amateur Cup and the Blues’ association with the competition would end in bitter disappointment as defender Keith Mead’s 30-yard own goal sealed a 2-1 defeat to Northern League champions Blyth Spartans at Croft Park.

As a result of the three-day working week caused by the Coal Miners strike, Wycombe played their first ever game on a Sunday on 13 January 1974, thrashing Corinthian Casuals 7-0 in front of 2,200 at Loakes Park. The season ended with revenge over local rivals Slough Town, who were beaten 3-1 in the final of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup at Finchampstead Road, Wokingham.

There was more glory in the Isthmian League as the side won their final two games of the season to become champions for the third time in four seasons. On a warm May evening, late goals from Perrin and striker Micky Holifield saw the side overturn a 1-0 deficit to beat Leytonstone 2-1 at Granleigh Road. A brace from Pritchard and another from Holifield then sealed a 3-0 victory over the same opponents the following weekend as the Chairboys finished two points ahead of nearest rivals Hendon.

The title was won in fine style with the team remaining unbeaten at Loakes Park throughout the entire campaign, while they also won prize money for sporting behaviour after collecting just a single booking in 42 league matches. It was the perfect springboard as the Wanderers began the 1974/75 season, their first as a ‘semi-professional’ club.

In practice it made little difference as the club carried on as if nothing much had changed. All of theWanderers players were non-contract at the time and no wages were officially paid until the following season.Ironically the Chairboys would go on to enjoy arguably their greatest ever season to date. There was a big blow in the summer of 1974, however, as Larry Pritchard left to re-join Sutton United.

Defender Alan Phillips and midfielder Howard Kennedy both made their debuts in a 2-0 opening-day victory against Kingstonian at Loakes Park as a steady start was made to the Isthmian League campaign. Striker Dylan Evans and Gary Hand also made their debuts in the following weeks, but there was disappointment however as the club’s first ever FA Trophy tie ended in an inglorious 3-0 defeat at Ilford. The real excitement would, however, be reserved for the FA Cup.

The team had to negotiate the qualifying rounds again after the club forgot to send in the exemption form! The first round tie with Cheltenham Town was lit up by a sensational solo effort from Paul Birdseye in a 3-1 win at Loakes Park. It set up a second round tie with AFC Bournemouth and an emotional return for Delaney. The tie ended goalless but the replay at Dean Court would prove to be one to remember.

Delaney missed the game through injury but the Cherries dominated the first half and should have lead by more than a single goal at the break. The hosts lost goalkeeper Kevin Charlton to injury at the start of the second half and the Blues soon equalised through Horseman. They then snatched a dramatic late winner when Horseman’s shot deflected off the back of Perrin to find the net and seal a 2-1 victory.

Wycombe had created history, reaching the third round of the FA Cup for the very first time and were rewarded with a home tie against then First Division leaders Middlesbrough. A capacity crowd of 12,000 packed out Loakes Park in January 1975 with highlights shown the following day on the Big Match! Phillips and Perrin both went close to causing a sensational shock but the game ended in a goalless draw.

Boro boss Jack Charlton was complimentary about the Chairboys display but wasn’t so kind about the sloping Loakes Park pitch and said: “We’re going to give them a chasing” in the replay at Ayresome Park. A crowd of 30,128 watched Wycombe put in the performance of their lives with midfielder Howard Kennedy twice denied by superb saves from home goalkeeper Jim Platt.

With less than a minute remaining Boro’ midfielder Graeme Souness found David Armstrong inside the box and he cut inside before slotting the ball past Maskell. It was a cruel way to lose although many felt extra-time would have been too much for the side that was already starting to flag. The following weekend saw the team brought right back down to earth as they travelled to the White House ground to face Oxford City in a league clash.

The Wanderers were trailing leaders Enfield by 16 points with just a single game in hand and retaining the title appeared to be an impossible task. Holifield’s goal sealed a 1-0 victory that day and the team went on to record nine wins on the bounce by the end of March. There was something of a distraction on Easter Monday, however, in the final of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup final at Chesham.

Hellenic League side Thatcham Town survived for the 90 minutes but were eventually bested 4-0 in extra-time, despite some dubious officiating from Ken Walker. The Wycombe players then returned to their dressing room instead of collecting the cup in protest at the Berks and Bucks FA’s continued refusal to allow the club to compete in the London Senior Cup, without even giving a reason.

The side returned to the league still with a dozen games to be played in April and May and there was a tense goalless draw against title rivals Enfield in front of 4,500 fans at Loakes Park. The previous half-a-dozen games had seen the side score an incredible 27 goals with Searle claiming the match-ball with a hat-trick of hat-tricks!

The team had won 15 and drawn five of the 20 league games since the Middlesbrough cup ties but it all came down to the final day of the season, and due to the use of goal average, a 1-0 victory over third-placed Dagenham was needed to retain the Championship. Over 3,800 fans braved the cold and the rain on the Loakes Park terraces, but their mood will have matched the weather as game appeared to be heading towards a goalless draw.

There were just five minutes remaining when Searle crashed a shot into the top corner of the net from the edge of the box. It was a sensational way to seal a 1-0 win and it took the Chairboys above bitter rivalsEnfield by the narrowest of margins to become champions for the fourth time in five seasons. The side had again remained unbeaten at Loakes Park throughout the entire league season and there was much to celebrate during the summer of 1975.


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