Blues come close to a third successive promotion in Adrian Wood's latest recap.Part 5 - Season 1994/95 – So close to another play off campaign
After a wonderful two promotions in successive seasons had elevated the club from non-league to the third tier of domestic football, the big question was whether Wycombe could now compete on equal terms with the likes of Birmingham, Huddersfield, Hull, Blackpool and Cardiff. A huge boost came with Martin O’Neill signing a new deal at the end of July. There was disappointment though with Steve Guppy moving to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle for £150,000, while Mark West moved on after a remarkable 174 goals in 386 games for the club. However, O’Neill brought in the vastly experienced 36-year old striker Cyrille Regis on a free transfer from Wolverhampton.
Around the ground, the new match day draw ticket was introduced where 50% of the gross takings were won by one lucky winner at every home match. The Sportsman’s Dinners saw speakers of the calibre of Trevor Brooking, Norman Hunter and John Conteh. Big Ben’s Car Boot Sales were held at Adams Park every Sunday with the Centre Spot public house and restaurant being open for lunch. The club opened a Community Leisure Room at the end of the Vere Suite which was to be used as a match day crèche, as a children’s room, and in conjunction with the club’s learning through football scheme. The club announced profits in its first year in the Football League of £217,000 with turnover up by 31% to £2.2m.
The bookies had Wanderers at 8-1 to be promoted and at 18-1 to win the Division 2 title. Indeed, the form of O’Neill’s side in the first half of the campaign certainly gave optimism that there would be yet more celebrations come May. The first ever Division 2 fixture at Adams Park saw a comfortable 3-0 win over Cambridge United with goals from Tony Hemmings, Simon Garner and Jason Cousins (penalty) in front of a healthy 5,782 crowd. Hull were the only side to win at Wycombe in the first half of the season. There were some outstanding performances including a thrilling 4-3 win over Brentford watched by 6,847, and a 2-1 win over highly fancied Huddersfield. The York and Brighton league fixtures attracted crowds of over 7,000. At the turn of the year the Blues were fourth, five points behind leaders Birmingham.
Once again Adams Park was selected to host an international fixture. The occasion was an Under-18 international between England and Slovenia, and the English squad - with the likes of Danny Murphy, Lee Bowyer and Lee Hendrie - triumphed 3-0. The club used the match day programme to advertise its community programme sponsored by the Midland Bank and the Bucks Free Press. This included soccer courses and fun weeks, the ‘Learning through Football’ scheme, and the WWFC Roadshow. The club launched further initiatives for supporters during the season. The Wrexham fixture (April 11th) was called a “Members Night” when season ticket holders could bring along a guest at much reduced prices. A family terrace was experimented with in the Davenport Vernon Vauxhall Stand. This was a no smoking section with the aim of enabling children to have a clearer view. “Quid a Kid” was back for the Crewe game (March 25th) with the areas adjacent to the perimeter fences being for the sole use of children.
The first action of 1995 saw the ground attendance record broken again. The Blues had reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup courtesy of comfortable wins over non-leaguers Chelmsford and Hitchin. A crowd of 9,007 packed the ground to see Premiership side West Ham who came out on top 2-0. O’Neill seriously strengthened the squad early in 1995 with the signings of Mickey Bell (£45,000 from Northampton), Gary Patterson (£70,000 from Shrewsbury), Terry Howard on a free from Orient, Miquel Desouza (£80,000 from Birmingham) and then a club record of £140,000 was spent on Steve McGavin (also ex Birmingham). Desouza made an immediate impact, scoring six goals in his first six appearances. Unfortunately disaster struck as he suffered an injury in training that ruled him out until the last day of the season.
March was a poor month – the goals dried up and the team went eight games without a win and five games without scoring. During that run champions elect Birmingham City won 3-0 at Adams Park in front of another large crowd, 7,289. The team were now adrift of the play offs but results improved in April when a 7,683 crowd saw a Dave Carroll goal beat Oxford United 1-0 thus securing a league double over our local rivals.
The last home league game against Plymouth was a crucial game for both sides. To have any chance of reaching the play offs, Wycombe needed the three points whilst the Pilgrims were desperate for the points at the wrong end of the table. Wycombe’s problem was that due to reorganisation of the Football League, there was just one automatic promotion place in Division 2 that season. They thus needed to finish no lower than 5th to qualify for the play-offs. A crowd of 6,850 saw Argyle take an early lead only for Mickey Bell to equalise. The Blues however were later caught on the break and Richard Landon grabbed the winner. Despite Regis scoring the winner at Leyton Orient a week later, O’Neill’s side finished sixth, three points behind fifth-placed Huddersfield. The average home league attendance was 5,856, an increase of 7% on the previous season’s average. It was the seventh best average in Division 2. Regis and Garner finished top scorers with nine league goals apiece.
If that was disappointing, Wycombe fans soon heard the news they'd been dreading. O’Neill’s relationship with the board had deteriorated; he was allowed to speak to Norwich Chairman Robert Chase and he accepted the manager’s job at Carrow Road. It was a sad end to a wonderful five and half year at the club that had been a truly magical time for players and supporters alike.
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Saturday 12th September 2015.