Adrian Wood begins his series of reflections on the club's 25 years at Adams Park.Part 1 - Season 1990/91 – A New Beginning
On May 7th 1990 a fixture against Martin O’Neill’s International XI brought to an emotional end 95 years of Wycombe Wanderers history at Loakes Park. The famous slope would soon be no more as the site was earmarked for the development of the adjacent Wycombe Hospital. The club’s new ground at Sands was still under construction - terraces and stand were completed in Jan 1990 with the internal works and landscaping finally being completed in July.
The safety capacity of the new stadium - named Adams Park in honour of benefactor and former captain Frank Adams - was set at 6,000, though this was considerably lower than its actual physical capacity. These strict regulations followed on from the disasters at Valley Parade and Hillsborough in the 1980's. The main stand had seven terraced rows that seated 1,267. “A” block (some 90 seats) was defined as the Family Stand. The remainder of the ground was terracing only. The long Woodland terrace opposite had 16 standing terraces and was shared with visiting supporters. Behind the goals each terrace provided 16 levels of standing accommodation. Match day admission prices for the terraces were set at £3.50 (concessions at £2) with seat prices in the Stand being set at £4.50. Verco had confirmed their club sponsorship for a further three years.
The inaugural game was a memorable 1-1 draw against Littlewoods Cup holders Nottingham Forest on Thursday, August 9th. The fixture was sponsored by Atcost Buildings who had built the main structures at the ground. A crowd of 4,810 saw Wycombe take an early lead. Fittingly the scorer was Mark West who made his 300th appearance in Wycombe quarters later in the season. Forest, who fielded the likes of Des Walker, Steve Hodge and Nigel Clough, later equalised through Franz Carr. Further warm up games against Football League opponents Southampton (L0-1), Reading (W2-1), QPR (L1-4) followed before the Conference season kicked off on August 18th.
The new season was eagerly awaited by all connected with the club. The arrival of Martin O’Neill as manager the previous January had given the club a huge boost and the former Northern Ireland international had guided the club to a comfortable 10th place finish. With the excitement of playing in a new stadium optimism was high that 1990/91 would be a season to be remembered. This certainly proved to be the case. O’Neill’s side hit top form at Adams Park from the outset winning their first three home league fixtures in style scoring 10 goals in the process. The first competitive fixture at the new stadium on the August Bank Holiday saw Welling United dispatched 4-1 in front of a 3,037 crowd. Gary Smith netted the first competitive goal at Adams Park and was joined on the score sheet by Dave Carroll, Andy Kerr and an own goal. Comfortable 3-0 wins over Altrincham and Northwich Victoria followed to leave Wycombe in 4th place.
The first FA Cup tie at Adams Park saw a 3-0 win over Maidenhead United in a 1st Qualifying Round tie. This was the first of six home ties for Wycombe in that season’s competition. After Basingstoke Town were hammered 6-0 in the 4th Qualifying Round, O’Neill’s side produced one of their best league displays of the season. Their opponents at Adams Park on Nov 3rd were Kettering Town, unbeaten and six points clear at the top. A crowd of 4,146 saw the Poppies thrashed 5-1, Mark West starring with four goals.
The Adams Park fortress was finally breeched early December. Nicky Evans scored early and late against Kidderminster but the Harriers netted three times in between. A week later and the BBC broadcast John Motson in his sheepskin at a snow covered Adams Park as the FA Cup 2nd round tie against Peterborough United was postponed. Four days later 5,695 packed the ground and saw Martin Blackler deservedly put Wycombe ahead before Paul Culpin rescued the Football league side late on. Another fine display followed at London Road with the Posh relieved to get through 2-0. Wycombe ended 1990 in 5th place, a position they were to hold for the remainder of the season.
News of the excellent Adams Park playing surface and the club’s outstanding facilities resulted in the club hosting the Women’s European Championship Quarter Final between England and Germany in late November. The Germans won that fixture 4-1 but in April the England Ladies returned to Wycombe beating Scotland 5-0 in a friendly international. Everyone was keen to come to the new ground with George Best, Sir Stanley Matthews and Gary Lineker all speaking at Sportsmen’s Dinners in the Vere Suite.
During the second half of the campaign attention turned to another cup competition – the FA Trophy. A 1-0 home win over Wealdstone in round 1 was followed by victories over VS Rugby and Cheltenham and in the semi-final O’Neill’s side drew Altrincham who were topping the Conference table. A crowd of 5,248 saw the home leg which Wycombe edged 2-1 thanks to goals from Dave Carroll and Keith Scott. A Wembley place was confirmed at Moss Lane a week later thanks to a 2-0 success.
Another memorable evening was the visit of Barnet on April 29th. HRH The Duke of Kent officially opened the stadium – this was his first visit to a non-league club. The attendance of 4,402 was the 7th highest Conference attendance of the season. Wycombe’s average league attendance in 1990/91 finished up at 2,794 (bettered by only Colchester and Barnet) and was a 48% increase on the previous season’s average. The Barnet game was also covered by Sportscast Satellite Broadcasting who showed the game live in over 300 clubs and pubs throughout the country.
Wycombe ended in 5th place on 74 points, 13 behind champions Barnet. Their Adams Park form was excellent with 15 wins and three draws in the 21 fixtures. The season ended superbly when Kidderminster were beaten 2-1 at Wembley in the Trophy final, Scott and West scoring the Wycombe goals. West finished with 24 Conference goals in total with another 14 in all cup competitions. Wembley was a fitting end to the first season at Adams Park - undoubtedly one of the most memorable in the club’s history.
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Saturday 8th August 2015.