Wycombe Wanderers have reached the League One Play-off final at Wembley and their most famous supporter Bill Turnbull will be there, reporting on the game.
A Chairboys stalwart, Bill will be part of the club’s media team under the arch on Monday evening. Wycombe have been big supporters of the work of Prostate Cancer UK for several years, regularly holding matchday collections at Adams Park.
Their manager Gareth Ainsworth regularly wears the charity’s ‘Man of Men’ pin badge on the sideline, like many managers across the UK. Gareth also joined Jeff Stelling on the final day of his inaugural March for Men – when he was walking to Wembley!
As well as walking towards Wembley, Ainsworth also played his part in history back on March 24, 2015, when for one night only Luton Town’s famous Kenilworth Road ground became the Prostate Cancer UK Stadium. Their opponents that day? Wycombe Wanderers.
Here are some excerpts from Bill's interview with Prostate Cancer UK; prostate cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and you can find out more about the charity’s groundbreaking work in football and their iconic ‘Man of Men’ pin badge via prostatecanceruk.org/football.
Why do you support Wycombe?
We used to live in Buckinghamshire, just outside Beaconsfield, and so Wycombe used to do football camps during school holidays and my kids went to that, and then there was the famous FA Cup run when they reached the cup semi-final in 2001 and that’s really what got us hooked, me and my two sons (daughter occasionally).
After that we became season ticket holders. You could call us glory-hangers, except that there wasn’t a lot of glory to be had. There after you grew to love the club. There’s a special atmosphere about Wycombe Wanderers because of where it is; such a lovely rural setting, and it's small enough still to have that real club feeling about it where people do care about each other. I don’t get to as many as I used to as I live in Suffolk now, but when I do go, I meet people who I haven’t seen for a long time. People come up and say hello. It's like seeing family in some respects. It's so much more than just a game.
What would you have said if I’d have mentioned Wembley at the start of the season?
I’d have laughed. People talk about mid-table mediocrity. That was my ambition for the club. The previous season it was just staying up in League One. This season was mid-table mediocrity, but I realised very quickly that I was going to have to reset my sights and they were aiming much, much higher than that. Wycombe were unbeaten in 14 games at one point and top of the table at Christmas, and that was unheard of. It wasn’t that we couldn’t believe it; we were just living a dream in that respect. To be going to Wembley in the play-off final is something that very few of us would have envisaged.
Do you see the game against Oxford as a derby?
They were not the first team to beat us this season, but they were the team to break the long unbeaten streak. From the fans' perspective this is a long-term rivalry, certainly. Oxford have spent some time in the top division and have also dropped out of the league altogether. They have had more of a rollercoaster ride over the years than even Wycombe have. There’s a lot of sparring that goes on. It’s called the M40 derby and it’s always fun to play them.
A lot of Wycombe fans work in the same offices as Oxford fans, so they have to work alongside them every day, so it's more about bragging rights on the Monday after the game, that sort of thing. It’s not a deadly rivalry; more a friendly, loud rivalry.
What are your previous experiences at Wembley?
Wycombe played at the old Wembley several times in the various trophy competitions, but we went to the new Wembley in the League 2 play-off final in 2015. We played Southend. I flew back from Spain a day earlier from my holiday and my wife wasn’t very happy. We were winning 1-0 in extra time with 20 seconds to go and we ended up losing on penalties. It was a bit of a heartbreaker, that. We backed off and backed off, and they had that one shot. I don’t even like to think about it. I don’t think any fan wants it to go to penalties. I just hope it doesn’t, because its just too much to watch.
How do you feel about the final?
How do I feel about it? Excited? Yes. Nervous? Not yet, but I will be on Monday afternoon and evening. You know you are the envy of all the other fans in the league pretty much by getting to Wembley. It's an occasion you have just got to make sure that you enjoy, win or lose. These are memories that will last for a lifetime. My regret is that no fans are going to get to see it from either club, and that’s really, really sad. It's not a once in a lifetime thing but I just wish more people could have got through the doors.
What would it mean for the club to reach the Championship?
I don’t want to talk about it too much as it’s like ‘touching the trophy’, which you should never do, but it would be just remarkable, extraordinary, and beyond the dreams of a lot of fans to be in the Championship. People may had had this vague notion, this pipedream for years and years. But if it were to happen, it would be extraordinary and would take some getting used to.
We have new owners, Rob Couhig in America and his associates, and his nephew Pete has been doing an amazing job over here. He’s been isolated from his family for months, apart from one trip home, I think. They are good people, sound and solid businesspeople and they will be ready for the moment. I’m hoping that if it was to happen that it would not be a flash in the pan by any means.
And what do you make of the job that Gareth Ainsworth has done?
He’s is the longest serving manager in the EFL. He is just a real diamond geezer. He’s fantastic. As a player his attitude was never-say-die; he always gave the very best that he could. He’s a rock-solid fella, a wonderful, wonderful man. I have huge amount of time for him and am very fond of him.
He’s not only been with us as manager for a long time; altogether he’s been with us just over 10 years. He arrived on loan, and then as a full-time player. He played with us for 3-4 seasons then took over as player-manager. He just kept us in the league on one critical day when it came down to a single goal that would have made the difference and sent us down. And then straight after that he got us to Wembley [in the League 2 play-off final 2015], and then he got us promoted and kept us up. You can see from his energy on the touchline, he gives absolutely 100 per cent every single day and that gets through to the players. I can’t tell you how much I admire him.
Of course he’s also been a big supporter of Prostate Cancer UK too. He wears the badge at a lot of matches, and has been really supportive to me which I really, really appreciate. When you have the disease every bit of love you get really makes a big difference. And to have people like him behind you and supporting you is a big boost.
Like many other clubs, Wycombe have always been very supportive of charities. Prostate cancer is a big deal because it hits so many men and the bulk of football supporters that go to matches are men. And a lot of them are at that critical vulnerable age of 50+. So it's very much in their minds, and the fans have always been very generous.
All men are vulnerable to prostate cancer and a lot of men are going to get it. The best thing is that by doing this the clubs are shining a light, not just on prostate cancer but on cancer altogether, and talking about it. That’s hugely important, to shine a light on the disease, not to be afraid of it, not to shy away from it, but to think ‘okay there is this disease, I’ve got it or my father's got it so we are going to look at it and say right, what can we do about it, what sort of support can we get from Prostate Cancer UK?’ The more people wear the badge the better.
How are you health-wise? Is football a release for you?
Absolutely. When you have cancer it's with you all day every day. You are always thinking ‘how do I feel, what’s it doing to me today, what can I do to improve my health?’, and it can be a burden. And I realised after watching the second leg of the play-off against Fleetwood on Monday that it hadn’t crossed my mind at all. I was so absorbed in the game, so excited that I completely forgot it. That’s what happens in games; you get swept away in the excitement of it, win, lose or draw. And that’s a wonderful relief.
Health-wise I’m okay. I’m on my third different treatment now. The results I got in yesterday were very encouraging. So we will see how we get on with that. I do yoga very day, I meditate, I watch my diet and do everything I can to stay positive.