Adrian Wood talks us through the Chairboys' promotion from League 2.Part 19 - Season 2008/09 – Promotion achieved under Peter Taylor
After the second play-off disappointment in three seasons, new manager Peter Taylor and head coach Junior Lewis were busy rebuilding the playing squad over the summer. Russell Martin and Sergio Torres had moved to Peterborough in a joint £200k fee. Meanwhile Stefan Oakes had left for Lincoln and other senior players departing included Andre Boucaud, Chris Palmer and Sam Stockley. Meanwhile the new management team made seven pre-season signings including Lewis Hunt, Lewwis Spence, John Mousinho and Chris Zebroski.
Fans faced increased admission prices with the cost of an adult ticket bought on the day for the centre block of the Woodlands Stand now being £21, while the terrace cost rising to £15. Both price categories had risen by £1. The club though retained its policy of offering a £2 discount for booking at least a day in advance of the game. Also the Wycombe District Council by now had identified Booker Airfield as a possible location for the 'Wycombe Community Stadium' to be shared by Wanderers and London Wasps.
Any question about the quality of the new-look squad soon disappeared as Taylor’s side started the League 2 campaign with a superb 18-match unbeaten run to give them a commanding lead at the top of the table by the start of December. Defensively the side were dominant with David McCracken, Craig Woodman, Leon Johnson and Mike Williamson proving a solid unit. Keeper Scott Shearer kept 11 clean sheets in that run, conceding just eight goals in the sequence.
Conversely the side were out of all major three major cup competitions by the end of November. Birmingham City had won convincingly 4-0 at Adams Park in the Carling Cup whilst fellow League 2 side Shrewsbury had inflicted the club’s biggest ever Adams Park defeat when winning 7-0 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, Grant Holt netting five times on the night. Meanwhile Wycombe were knocked out of the FA Cup at Eastwood Town after a Matt Harrold hat trick had seen off AFC Wimbledon in round 1.
The club reported losses of £1.66m for the year ending 30th June 2008. This compares to a loss of £699k in the previous year (when Wanderers had reached the semi-finals of the League Cup). Steve Hayes had increased his loans to the club by £1.8m to £5.85m, raising the total debt of the club to £7.2m. In early December it was revealed that Hayes has taken up a 97% stake in ground tenants London Wasps. Hayes claimed that as he was now the majority shareholder with Wasps with the desire to keep the rugby side in Wycombe, the Wycombe Council would be more likely to be supportive of his plans to move to a bigger stadium.
During season 2008/09, Wasps’ average gate at Adams Park in the Premiership was 9,310 with the full house of 10,000 achieved on three occasions. Compared with their recent high standards the season was disappointing with the club finishing 7th in the Premiership and failing to qualify for the Heineken Cup. They did however have an amazing 10 players representing England.
Wanderers’ long unbeaten run in the league finally ended in a 2-3 defeat at Aldershot. Taylor’s side topped the table going into 2009 five points clear of nearest rivals Brentford with just that one league defeat in 23 games. Supporters however remembered only too well the 21-game unbeaten run at the start of the 2005/06 season that had set up a superb platform for promotion only for a disastrous second half of the campaign to ruin those aspirations.
Undoubtedly performances were not so consistent in the New Year. At the start of January Bury were beaten 2-1 at Adams Park in what was eventually to prove a crucial scoreline. Just three further victories however were obtained by the end of March and going into April the side had slipped out of the automatic promotion places. The classy Williamson had moved to Watford in a £150k deal. The out of favour Scott McGleish was off to Orient and arrivals included Jon-Paul Pittman from Crawley and Stuart Beavon from Weymouth.
However, ultimately the most crucial signing was that of 19-year-old John Akinde on loan from Bristol City. The striker hit seven crucial goals in just 11 appearances to get Wycombe’s promotion aspirations back on track. Going into the final day of the season Wycombe were 2nd and needed just a point at home to Notts County to ensure promotion. Brentford were already promoted while third placed Exeter needed a victory at Rotherham to seal promotion. Fourth placed Bury were at home to Accrington and had a chance if they won and either Exeter or Wycombe slipped up. Wycombe had three more points than Bury and also a three goal better goal difference. Notts County were down in 20th place and had only won once at Adams Park in 13 meetings.
That tense final afternoon saw the highest ever league crowd at Adams Park, 9,625. The game did not go according to the form book. Wycombe looked nervous and edgy and the visitors led 1-0 at the interval. Wycombe lifted their game and skipper McCracken equalised. A point of course would be enough and attention turned to events elsewhere. Exeter were winning at Rotherham but Bury were only drawing 0-0. There was despair at Adams Park when County netted again in the 90th minute and the final whistle sounded with the visitors winning 2-1. News filtered through from Gigg Lane that Bury had scored a 90th minute penalty and that there were still several minutes of stoppage time to play. Those minutes seemed an eternity to everyone connected with Wycombe Wanderers. Finally news came through that 1-0 was the final score and the Adams Park promotion party could finally begin. It had been mighty close – if Bury had scored again Wycombe would have been left with another play-off lottery to contend with. It was the club’s first promotion since 1993/94 and ended a spell of five years in the fourth tier. Matt Harrold finished leading scorer with a total of 12. Aided by that record league attendance on the final day, the home average rose to 5,109, almost 8% up on the previous season’s 4,747.
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Saturday 27th February 2016.