There was play-off disappointment in 2008, as Adrian Wood recalls.Part 18 - Season 2007/08 – Talks of a “Community Stadium” and another play-off disappointment
After the dismal end to the previous campaign that had seen just five points won from the last 11 fixtures, the summer saw a considerable rebuilding of the playing squad with manager Paul Lambert making no less than 11 new signings. These included keeper Scott Shearer, defenders Craig Woodman, David McCracken and Leon Johnson, midfielders Martin Bullock and Gary Holt, and striker John Sutton. Off the field news was that “Dreams” would be the new shirt sponsors, whilst the “large screen” measuring approximately fifty feet wide appeared in the corner of the ground between the Main Stand and the away end.
In August, MD Steve Hayes revealed his ambitions to move to a new stadium whilst confirming his purchase of an 11% shareholding in London Wasps (later in the season this was increased to 25%). His ambitious plan was to build a 'Community Stadium' through an 'enabling development' scheme which would see the site shared with retail and other commercial activities such as hotel accommodation and conferencing facilities.
Hayes said he had a two-year plan to get things moving with the local Council for what would be a joint venture with current ground tenants London Wasps. He stated he would review his current funding of the club at the end of this season and would only continue funding at the current levels if backing was given to the new stadium. The capacity of this stadium was suggested as between 17,000 and 20,000. Wasps were enjoying life at Wycombe but were desperate to increase the stadium’s capacity. However the estimated costs of access roads were making Adams Park expansion plans financially unviable.
Early form was inconsistent as the new players took time to settle – progress in the league was steady rather than spectacular, and the club sadly exited all three major cup competitions at the first hurdle. After much transfer speculation last season’s leading goalscorer Jermaine Easter was finally off to Plymouth in a deal worth around £210k. Meanwhile Shearer was injured and Lambert brought in loanees Frank Fielding (Blackburn) and Przemyslaw Kazimierczak (Bolton). It was the impressive Fielding who took the opportunity, going on to make 39 first-team appearances during the campaign. The ranks were further strengthened by the return on loan of Tommy Doherty. A 0-6 hammering at Stockport was really the turning point with the team winning the next four matches to climb into the play-off positions by Boxing Day.
The club announced a £700k loss for the 2006/07 season which was a decrease of £1.2m compared to the previous season. However, the losses came despite benefitting £531k from the sale of Roger Johnson and Kevin Betsy and an increase in matchday receipts (due to the run to the semi-final of the League Cup) by £364k to £1,584k. The club had reduced reducing operating costs by £562k (mainly around the catering department). However, Steve Hayes now had loans totalling £4,086k in the club.
The second half of the campaign saw remarkable consistency from Lambert’s side who never dropped out of the play-off positions but who were never higher than 5th. Acquisitions included striker Leon Knight from MK Dons and also Neil Lennon - Lambert’s former team-mate at Celtic and a Northern Ireland international. Meanwhile Doherty was released from QPR and made his move to Adams Park a permanent one. January saw a remarkable 4-0 win at Mansfield with Scott McGleish netting all four goals on his way to a superb total of 26 for the season. This was a new record for Wycombe in the Football League, beating Sean Devine’s 23 in season 1999/2000.
The team went into April in sixth place – seven points behind third placed Darlington. The month started with two hard-earned draws against top three placed opponents. Firstly a stoppage time penalty from McGleish salvaged a point against Peterborough at Adams Park in front of the highest home attendance of the season, 6,202. A week later McGleish netted twice at Stadium MK, but Sean O’Hanlon netted a stoppage-time leveller for the champions elect.
With just four games remaining, the best Wycombe could hope for was promotion via the play-offs. McGleish scored the game’s only goal against Chester City at Adams Park to confirm a play-off finish. The league campaign was concluded with a 2-1 home success over Bradford City. This meant a 7th place finish with 78 points. This was ten points behind the final automatic spot but was seven points more than when the club had reached the play-offs two years earlier. The average home league attendance was 4,747, some 4.7% down on that of the previous season.
Play-off opponents were 4th placed Stockport who had inflicted Wycombe’s biggest ever Football League defeat back in December (see above) whilst the sides had fought out a 0-0 draw at Wycombe in March. At Adams Park Delroy Facey (on loan from Gillingham) capitalised on a poor clearance by visiting keeper John Ruddy to put Lambert’s side ahead in the first half. Sadly that advantage was cancelled out eight minutes from time by a fine equaliser from Stephen Gleeson.
The Edgeley Park return was not a happy day for the club. At least two of the seven official coaches didn't make the game because of a serious incident on the M6. Home striker Liam Dickinson netted the only goal in the 8th minute with Wycombe rarely looking like equalising. The fallout was instant with Lambert resigning, commenting: “This is a great club, but I feel that the time has come for me to move on. I don't have another job to go to; I just feel that this is the right thing to do." The club responded quickly with former England coach Peter Taylor being announced as his replacement just nine days later.
As for tenants Wasps, their season ended in triumph with Lawrence Dallaglio, in his final game for the club, lifting the Guinness Premiership trophy after victory over Leicester in front of a record 81,600 crowd at Twickenham. Over the season their lowest Premiership attendance at Adams Park was 6,629 with the maximum 10,000 packing in on four separate occasions.
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Saturday 12th February 2016.