Phil Slatter recalls the day Wanderers gave top flight side Coventry City an almighty scare in 1993.While the league cup these days is sadly something of a reserves competition for big clubs, twenty-one years ago it wasn’t the case. Shortly after the European ban on English sides have been lifted, there were only four European spaces available in total, never mind the Champions League, and the Coca-Cola Cup (as it was back then) was one of those avenues. The big clubs took it seriously and for the smaller ones it represented a shot at the big time.
For Wycombe Wanderers in our first football league season, every game that season was a step into the unknown and the league cup was a new adventure. For me, aged just nine years old at the time, our game against Premier League Coventry was the first time I’d see a top flight side play live. What started in a long queue on a rain soaked Sunday morning at Adams Park to get tickets (no internet then kids) appeared to end with a disappointing, if predictable 3-0 defeat at Highfield Road.
Nonetheless, we packed into a sold out Adams Park for the second leg and I stood alongside what is now the Woodlands family stand more in hope than expectation. It ended up being one of the most exciting, heartbreaking and yet memorable nights in my young Wycombe supporting life.
Keith Ryan’s first half effort from range suddenly made the tie alive but this was too big a hill to climb against a side at the opposite end of the football league pyramid wasn’t it? But then, more hope…just after the hour and Keith Scott heads in from a corner. Still, we’d need a third just to get extra time. It was forced but controversially ruled out for a foul on Steve Ogrizivic. There go our dreams, or so we thought. The cheers when Terry Evans legitimately bundled the ball home to equalise would only be surpassed by the noise a few minutes into extra-time. Jason Cousins squeezed a free kick home and my everlasting memory of the game was him sliding across the sodden turf right in front of where I stood as joy was un-confounded.
Hope is a cruel mistress though and in the second half of extra time, City struck, picking up an all important away goal. I remember thinking ‘come on Wycombe, we only need to get one more’ my young, naïve, hopeful mind oblivious to the monumental effort the lads had already put in. Phil Babb eventually sealed the tie for Coventry though, courtesy of a huge deflection and we walked out with our hearts sunk but our heads held high. ‘We gave you a bit of a scare, didn’t we?’ my uncle said to some visiting fans in the car park. They replied with sporting but accurate comments that Wanderers deserved to have gone through.
It would be a thirteen year wait before we’d actually get beyond the second round of the competition, a wait that it would transpire was worth it, but that October evening in 1993 was undeniably an early landmark in our football league history. It was Coventry’s victory, but it was our night.
Relive the highlights via YouTube below: