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The arrival of Brian Lee

2 March 2013

The 1967/68 season could be described as a memorable one, albeit mostly for the wrong reasons.

place. It would prove to be the last season in the Oxford and Cambridge blue for Paul Bates, who made his final appearance in a 3-2 league defeat to Tooting and Mitcham United at Loakes Park in October. He made a total of 416 appearances and scored 309 goals for the Chairboys.thThe side was unable to maintain its good league form and eventually finished in a disappointing 14

The team faired no better in the cups, losing 2-0 at home to Dagenham in an FA Cup fourth-qualifying-round replay before suffering a humiliating 1-0 defeat to City of Norwich School Old Boys Union in a first-round FA Amateur Cup tie. The season did at least end with silverware as the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup was reclaimed with a 3-2 win over Slough Town in the final at Chesham.

There was an encouraging start to the 1968/69 season with the side winning 10 of its opening 13 Isthmian League matches, but following a 1-0 home defeat to Wealdstone in December, coach Barry Darvill handed in his resignation. Acting on a recommendation from the Football Association, the club approached Brian Lee, then manager of the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, and he took charge of his first game on 28th December 1968, which ended in a goalless draw against Clapton at the Old Spotted Dog ground.

Lee made an immediate impact and disbanded the Selection Committee within a month. He brought in John Reardon as his assistant and even suspended leading goalscorer Tony Horseman for two weeks following a disagreement. The changes essentially made him the club’s first ever manager and results on the pitch improved with the side losing just two of its remaining 15 Isthmian League games to finish in a creditable fourth place.

Lee continued to make changes during the summer of 1969 with the reserve team disbanded due to limited financial resources and a belief that too many players were happy not to challenge for a place in the first team. The season began with an encouraging 5-0 win against Bromley at Loakes Park with central defender John Delaney and midfielder Geoff Anthony both making their debuts.

The side was strengthened further during the campaign with striker Keith Searle scoring on his debut in a 3-0 home league win over Walthamstow Avenue in October. Defender Peter Suddaby and midfielder Johnny Hutchinson also made their debuts in December. There was disappointment in November when the Blues were beaten 1-0 in an FA Cup fourth-qualifying-round replay by then-Southern League side Barnet at Underhill.

That tie was to be Len Worley’s last start in a Wanderers shirt and on 13th December 1969 he made his final appearance as a substitute in a 1-0 win at Croydon Amateurs in an FA Amateur Cup first-round tie. He admitted afterwards that he shed tears when walking out through the Loakes Park gates knowing he had pulled on the shirt for the last time. He went on to link up again with Paul Bates at Chesham United and can still be seen watching the Blues at Adams Park today.

The team reached the quarter-finals of the FA Amateur Cup, only to lose 2-0 to St Albans City in front of 9,250 at Loakes Park. The season was to end in more disappointment as the Chairboys finished as runners-up in the Isthmian League, just a single point behind champions Enfield, despite having gone 30 league games unbeaten stretching back to the beginning of September! 

Peter Suddaby left to join Blackpool in the summer of 1970 but Lee again strengthened the squad with the signings of centre-back Ted Powell, nicknamed the Bobby Moore of amateur football, and midfielder Larry Pritchard. Widely regarded as one of the best players in the amateur game, Pritchard was coaxed from Sutton United to join the Chairboys and scored 57 goals in exactly 200 appearances over four successful seasons at Loakes Park.

Both players made their debuts in a 3-2 opening-day home league win over Walthamstow Avenue and it was the start of a memorable season. There was a disappointing exit to local rivals Slough Town in front of a 6,800 crowd at the Dolphin Stadium in an FA Cup first-round replay in November 1970, and the Rebels repeated the dose when they won 1-0 in a replay of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup final at Marlow in May 1971.

There was another exciting run to the quarter-finals of the FA Amateur Cup, only for an impressive Skelmersdale United side to end it with a thoroughly-deserved 3-0 victory in front of 10,203 at Loakes Park in March. There were to be big celebrations, however, as the Wanderers claimed a 1-0 win over Sutton United in what was effectively a title decider at Gander Green Lane in April. Ironically it was Pritchard who scored the winning goal and the Isthmian League title was won by just a single point.

Searle finished as the club’s leading goalscorer with 28, ending Tony Horseman’s five-year reign, but he left to join Hayes in the summer of 1971, only to return two weeks into the 1971/72 season. A 2-0 opening-day victory over Ilford at Loakes Park in the Isthmian League saw Paul Birdseye make his debut at right-back to follow in the footsteps of his father Peter. He would go on to make 459 appearances in 11 seasons with the Blues.

There was a shock 2-0 defeat to Maidenhead United in an FA Cup first-qualifying-round tie at York Road in September, but the team again put in some exceptional performances, winning 19 of their first 22 league matches whilst embarking on another FA Amateur Cup run. Aveley, Spennymoor United and Walton & Hersham were all seen off as the side again reached the quarter-finals.

This time they would make it through with Searle scoring the winner in a 1-0 win over Hayes at Loakes Park. The semi-final paired the Wanderers with Isthmian League rivals Hendon and the game would be played at the neutral venue of Griffin Park, Brentford. Over 5,000 of the 9,210 crowd made the 30-mile journey from the Chair Metropolis but they would endure a frustrating afternoon.

Playmaker Pritchard was missing after suffering two cracked ribs the previous month and Hendon took the lead against the run of play after a quarter of an hour. Wycombe fought back to deservedly equalise on the hour when Searle teed up Johnny Hutchinson to fire home, but the Greens won it late on when Peter Deadman’s 25-yard strike beat John Maskell and was allowed to stand, despite a Hendon player having been stood in an offside position.

The Berks and Bucks Senior Cup final was again lost to Slough Town, who won 3-0 at York Road, Maidenhead on Easter Monday. However, the team recovered from cup disappointment to again be crowned Isthmian League champions, sealing the title with a 3-1 win at Ilford the following weekend and finishing the season five points ahead of nearest rivals Enfield.

Following back-to-back titles was always going to be a difficult ask and with expectations now sky high, the 1972/73 season was something of a disappointment. Alan Gane made his debut in a 3-0 opening-day victory over Dulwich Hamlet at Loakes Park as the side won its first half-a-dozen matches, but Walton & Hersham ended the club’s interest in the FA Cup with a 1-0 win in a third-qualifying-round tie at Stompond Lane in October.

Worse was to follow in December as the Wanderers’ FA Amateur Cup hopes were ended with a shock 1-0 defeat to Athenian League side Cheshunt at Loakes Park. 

In between the two matches Searle left to join Hendon, although he did return again in March 1973 and still finished as top goalscorer with 17. The team lost just one of their last dozen Isthmian League matches, but could only finish in fourth place in the table. 

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