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Looking back on Wycombe's first appearance in the FA Cup third round

8 January 2016

As the club prepares for our eighth trip into the FA Cup third round, the game against Aston Villa will take place 41 years after our very first appearance at this stage.

While highlights of Saturday’s game will be available on YouTube the next day, it took nearly four decades for footage of Wycombe's 0-0 draw against Division One Middlesbrough at Loakes Park - the Blues lost the replay 1-0 - to appear online. It provides a fascinating insight into football from yesteryear.

The highlights package was taken from The Big Match – ITV’s answer to Match of the Day. While these days such a game would almost certainly be moved for TV coverage, this kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday with the highlights being shown the next day. With only three channels airing back then, football had little to no TV exposure, so it was a testament to what a big deal this game was that it was selected for highlights. These days even non-league teams are broadcast live to the nation.

We see a birdseye view of a sold out Loakes Park as 12,000 fans crammed in. The game represented the only chance for many locals to see a top flight side and the first time Wycombe would play a league side. No need for TV marketing to tell us about the ‘magic of the cup’; the fixture itself did that for the locals. The past 22 years have saturated the thrill of playing top flight sides somewhat and while playing a Premier League team is still a big deal, it’s happened an awful lot more since reaching the Football League (we’ve actually played 13 of the current Premier League line up in competitive fixtures, despite never being higher than the third tier) .

The footage then shows the Wycombe team making their way onto the field via a pathway formed by police officers – no stewards back then – and while the team wears light and dark blue, they were devoid of sponsors and, more notably, quarters. Despite it being somewhat iconic with Wanderers, it’s a reminder that the team has actually worn quarters for less than half of our history.

The team run onto the pitch and wave to the chairman who was watching on from his hospital room next to the ground, almost certainly annoyed at not being in the ground but, thanks to the location of Loakes Park, still able to watch the game.

The line-ups then appear on the screen and the commentator refers to the fact that three of Wycombe’s side that day actually had to work the morning of the game. Remember that the next time you hear a Premier League manager bemoaning fixture congestion.

There were three things that struck me during the game itself. Firstly, the few advertising hoardings around the ground advertising local companies and here we can see where advertising started to rear its head in sport. Nowadays, just about everything has a sponsor; from the ground to the stands via the shirts and the players themselves.

Secondly, there is little by the way of songs from the terraces, just the occasional shout of ‘Wycombe, Wycombe’; none of the more structured rhythmic chants we’re now used to.

And thirdly, Wycombe were totally dominant. It may only be 10 minutes of highlights but from it we can deduce that it was Boro who were hanging on. Wycombe missed some good opportunities and had one of them gone in we may well have had our own Ronny Radford moment.

Yet it ends goalless and the commentator remarks: “At least they’ve earned themselves a good payday via the return game at Ayresome Park.” That demonstrated that even back then money was still a key factor in football.

The crowd eventually stream onto the pitch – no suggestion of violence or trouble (or a need to protect the sloping, muddy pitch itself) that has sadly become associated with (often good natured) pitch invasions these days.

We next see some of the Wycombe players being interviewed in, of all places, the changing rooms and notably they all have southern English accents. They were all mostly local men back then of course whereas football is now far more cosmopolitan. Today we have and have had players from all over the country as well as places as far flung as Canada and Argentina. We often talk about the foreign invasion but even British-born players move about more freely these days although of course with Wycombe that is tied in to us now being a professional club.

Lastly, we see Jack Charlton, Middlesbrough manager, being interviewed with the Wanderers squad behind him. One member of said squad is smoking. Few players smoke these days and none would do it with a TV camera pointing at them.

Just nine years after winning the World Cup, Charlton is very gracious about Wycombe, stating how pleased he was with the result and complimenting the way Wycombe had played. He makes a joke about the replay mentioning that the pitch at Ayresome Park is ‘very big and very flat and Wycombe will get a right good chasing’, perhaps trying to unnerve the Wanderers somewhat. The interviewer then asks Charlton to tell the Wycombe players what he thinks. “Today lads, I wish I were your manager,” he said – a real testament from a World Cup winner who, less than 20 years later, would be managing in the World Cup finals.

The replay, to which there is no footage (or none I could find at least) took place four days later, not the standard 10 days we now often have, and a retrospective report on provided some insight. 30,000 fans crammed into Ayresome Park and Boro won right at the very death before their players formed a guard of honour while the home fans chanted ‘Wycombe, Wycombe’. Such sportsmanship does still occur on some occasions and back in 2008 the Kop stood to a man to applaud Havant and Waterlooville after Liverpool had twice come from behind to beat the non-leaguers 5-2.

Had the game finished goalless, there would have been a third match (again, fixture congestion?) as this was before the days of the penalty shoot-out. That replay would have been Wanderers tenth FA Cup match of the season having battled through four qualifying rounds against Marlow, Milton Keynes City, Chesham and Margate, a first round win over Cheltenham and a second round replay against AFC Bournemouth.. Yet the cup run stood at nine games – just one shy of the 10 we would chalk up en route to the 2001 semi-final.

Nowadays, the site where Loakes Park once stood contains a car park and extension of the same hospital from where the chairman watched the ’75 tie and bears no resemblance to a football stadium. There is a slight sense of retrospective sadness that younger fans never got to experience a game at a ground that was the home of the club many have come to love for so long. Wycombe and football though has had to move on.

And thanks to modern technology this piece of Wycombe history has been restored for a new generation to enjoy.

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