Wanderers enter Trust ownership, as Adrian Wood recalls.Part 23 - Season 2012/13 – Ainsworth steers the club to mid-table
Late June had seen the takeover of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club by Wycombe Wanderers Trust. Two new companies were formed, one to control the football club operations and another (Frank Adams Legacy Ltd) responsible for Adams Park, the training ground and the heritage aspects of the club. The deal saw current owner Steve Hayes sell his stake in the club that he had fully owned since his controversial takeover in July 2009 and the equally controversial conversion of the former members club to a PLC in July 2004.
With the transfer embargo now lifted, manager Gary Waddock moved swiftly to reinforce his squad. Defender Gary Doherty re-joined on a permanent basis while experienced midfielder Matt Spring agreed a two-year deal following his release from Leyton Orient. Sam Wood joined on a free from Brentford. Doherty was installed as skipper with Gareth Ainsworth concentrating on the coaching side, and there was a spirited performance at Watford in the League Cup first round with the Championship side finally edging the contest 1-0 after extra time. The League 2 campaign then got off to the best possible start with a fine 3-1 win at York City, the highlight of which was a stunning goal from Wood. No-one would have thought that would prove to be the last victory under Waddock.
The first home league game was lost to Gillingham 0-1. Four days later the side trailed 1-3 at Adams Park to Bristol Rovers only for the game to be abandoned on 65 minutes due to safety reasons with thunder, lightning and torrential rain all hitting the stadium. Last season’s goalscoring hero Stuart Beavon was off to Preston whilst Jo Kuffour and Dean Morgan arrived – initially both on short term deals. Defeats at Chesterfield and Exeter were followed by a 0-1 home defeat to AFC Wimbledon. That left Wycombe 21st in the table with just four points from seven games. Just over an hour later it was announced that Waddock had been relieved of his duties with immediate effect. On the Monday, Ainsworth was confirmed as caretaker manager with Richard Dobson as his assistant.
A week earlier the sale of London Wasps has finally been confirmed with a consortium purchasing the club from Steve Hayes. A statement on the Wasps website stated that the majority of the office staff would be based at the club’s training ground as part of a full separation from Wycombe Wanderers, and continued "London Wasps will continue to play at Adams Park for the foreseeable future, with the new owners placing a long-term priority on developing a new stadium for the club." For the record Wasps had another mediocre season finishing 8th in the Aviva Premiership with a season best attendance of 8,078 for the visit of Saracens in late March.
There was no dream start for Ainsworth. The club lost 0-3 at Dagenham & Redbridge, leaving Wycombe in 23rd place. However a 1-1 home draw with Plymouth was followed by three wins within a week. Torquay were beaten 2-1, the club’s first home win since March 2012. Wycombe then won 3-1 at Portsmouth in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and the week ended with a fine 1-0 success at third-placed Fleetwood.
The next seven games though didn’t produce a victory. The home local derby with Oxford United ended in a 1-3 defeat, signalling the end of popular keeper Nikki Bull’s spell with the club. FA Cup aspirations ended in a 1-4 defeat at Crewe and the defeat at Northampton on November 17th saw Wycombe slump to the bottom of League 2. By now Ainsworth had been appointed manager on an initial contract until the end of the season and results improved dramatically. Five wins and one draw from seven outings saw the club enter 2013 in 19th place. Matt McClure netted twice in an exciting 3-2 win Rotherham and scored two more in a 3-0 home win over Burton. Goals from Joel Grant and Ainsworth earned a 2-0 success in the replayed fixture with Bristol Rovers. The new keeper was 19-year old Jordan Archer on loan from Tottenham. On the downside, hopes of a decent JPT run ended 0-2 at Yeovil while Boxing Day saw a 0-4 reverse at Cheltenham.
The gradual ascent up the table continued in 2013. An unbeaten run of five games lifted the side to 11th, 29 points coming from the last 13 games. Included was a 4-0 thumping of York at Adams Park with two Morgan penalties and fine goals from Dave Winfield and Grant. Off the field there were major concerns over a winding up petition issued by the HMRC for a debt owed of around £108k. This debt was subsequently covered by the sale of the club’s training facility.
The Good Friday home game with Accrington was promoted as “The talk of the town” and a crowd of 4,577 saw former youth teamer Matt Ingram given his professional start in goal. The visitors won the points with a 93rd minute goal but April started with two fine away wins at Morecambe and Oxford. In April the news was announced that Ainsworth had agreed a new two-year deal as manager. He commented "I’m honoured, proud and very, very thankful to everyone that has supported me in any way. I want to repay the Trust and all the supporters by working so hard and bringing back the glory years”. He would also retire from the playing side after the Port Vale fixture – his 600th professional appearance. A crowd of 7,120, including 2,800 from Port Vale, saw a 1-1 draw that ensured automatic promotion for the visitors.
The average home league attendance dropped by more than a thousand to 3,720, the first time it had dipped below the 4,000 mark since the 1991/92 campaign. Wanderers finished the season in 15th place having recovered from being bottom of the table back in November. It was the club’s lowest finishing position in 20 seasons in the Football League but was still a satisfactory one for a club, ending their first season under the control of the Trust. Wycombe's last 30 games of the season under Gareth Ainsworth had them 7th in the League 2 form table.
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Saturday 16th April 2016.