Adrian Wood tells of the arrival of Alan Smith to Adams Park.Part 6 - Season 1995/96 – A new era under Alan Smith
The sixth season at Adams Park saw much change – on and off the field. There were over 60 applications for the managerial seat vacated by Martin O’Neill. Alan Smith, who had just left Crystal Palace, was the only man interviewed and was unanimously accepted by the board. Smith made just one summer signing - defender Paul Hardyman from Bristol Rovers - while long serving players Glyn Creaser and Simon Hutchinson departed.
The west terrace was now named the AXA Equity & Law Stand, the 3-year sponsorship of the Bucks Free Press Group having expired. The club held an Open Day on August 2nd when virtually the whole of Adams Park was available to view and photograph. “Mark your Man” was a new initiative that gave companies or supporters the chance to sponsor their favourite player for £200 plus VAT. Meanwhile the club accounts announced a loss of £144,301 against a profit the previous season of £217,378. Operating costs had risen by 12% with turnover up by just over 5% to £2.3m.
The club introduced various other initiatives during the season. The York City game (October 31st) was labelled Season Ticket Holder Night. Every season ticket holder was entitled to claim a free burger worth £1.60! In addition they could bring a guest to the fixture at a reduced rate. The Sportsman’s Dinners meanwhile had speakers of the calibre of Peter Osgood, Ron Yates and Jim Watt. To assist travel to Adams Park, there was a number of special bus services (operated by Prestwood Travel or Motts Travel) from Holmer Green, Bourne End, Monks Risborough and Piddington via Stokenchurch. Finally “Quid a Kid” returned when any under-16 was allowed to watch the Stockport game in February for just £1.
The Division 2 campaign started sluggishly with just one point from the first three outings. The team though went 14 games unbeaten during the autumn and in early November were looking good in 4th place. Smith had started making squad changes introducing defender Jason Rowbotham (ex Raith Rovers), winger David Farrell from Aston Villa (£100,000) and striker John Williams from Coventry City for a club record £150,000. During that run Adams Park’s best gate of the season 7,443 turned out for the Coca Cola Cup 2nd round tie against Premiership side Manchester City. A fine performance resulted in a 0-0 draw but the side were soundly beaten 0-4 in the second leg at Maine Road.
November however was the real turning point. The side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Division 3 side outfit Gillingham and humiliated 0-5 at Walsall in the Football League Trophy. There was just one league win between November 5th and the end of January and the team slipped to 12th place in the table. This was to be their final league position. Popular keeper Paul Hyde fell out with Smith after a 2-4 defeat at Carlisle and never played for the club again. Smith turned to loan keepers Ben Roberts (Middlesbrough) and Sieb Dykstra (QPR) for the remainder of the campaign. Popular striker Simon Garner also departed, being sent on loan to Torquay.
Early March saw the announcement of two important sponsorship deals. Firstly VERCO Office Furniture extended their existing sponsorship deal with the club for another three years. Verco, who first sponsored the Wanderers in 1988, were believed to be the longest running sponsors in the Endsleigh League. Secondly a two-year contract was signed with Mizuno Corporation who would be the new kit suppliers. The deal tied in with the new design of kit planned for the following season. In the programme for the Swindon game (March 2nd) supporters had the chance to choose between two new designs. Although one design received considerably more votes, many fans however objected to both options resulting in a number of spoilt ballot papers.
A major news item was the new South (Woodland) Stand that would replace the Evans Halshaw Stand. This was a necessity as under Football League regulations Adams Park did not have enough seats and the League could throw out the club if the situation was not rectified. Planning permission was finally received and Linpave Construction Ltd were appointed as main contractors. The new two tier cantilever stand would house 5,000 seated spectators with segregated areas for families and the disabled. Other new facilities included 20 executive hospitality boxes that were advertised at £10,000 per box plus VAT. The existing roof was removed after the Oxford game on April 8th and the whole of the stand was unavailable for the last two home games, fans being relocated into the Amersham & Wycombe College Stand or the AXA Equity & Law Stand.
The results in the final third of the season were very inconsistent. Smith’s long ball tactics were not well accepted but there were some excellent Adams Park results. The 4-1 win over Stockport included a marvellous individual goal by Dave Carroll. Miquel Desouza claimed a hat trick in a midweek 5-2 demolition of Bradford City (interestingly he had also hit a trio in Wycombe’s 4-0 win at Valley Parade back in September). Three days later Burnley were beaten 4-1 at Adams Park with two goals from Keith Ryan who had returned from long term injury. The best league gate of the season was 6,727 for the local derby with Oxford United. The U’s won convincingly 3-0 on their way to the runners up position. On the downside just 2,836 turned out for the midweek 1-1 draw with Rotherham united in April, a record low for a Football League game at Adams Park.
The season whimpered out with the club rooted in mid-table. Desouza was leading goal scorer with an impressive 18 league plus two cup goals. After so many successes over the previous five campaigns 1995/96 was generally regarded as disappointing. This was reflected in the season’s average league attendance at Adams Park being 4,573 - almost 22% down on the 1994/95 equivalent.
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Tuesday 29th September 2015.