Monsieur Salut writes: I may have said it before but League One is a treasure trove when it comes to Who are You? interviews, or is once I can locate a warm, witty and/or wise supporter from each club. There will be stumbles as the season progresses – the FA Cup draw left me with the task of finding not one but two Walsall candidates (it was often hard enough to get one when we were in the Championship), the Barnsley game has crept up on me and I haven’t even started thinking about Accrington Stanley and Bristol Rovers. Walsall (one fan covering both the forthcoming games) and Barnsley are sorted after a burst of energy yesterday, but recommendations for other coming games would be appreciated.
Jon Dickinson‘s* Who are You? makes the effort worthwhile. I love the pride he takes in supporting his own unfashionable local team but most of all, I love his responses about Martin O’Neill, Wycombe Wanderers’ amateur football history, what colleagues made of Sunderland when he conducted a straw poll at work and the manager who, when not managing, belts out rock music ….
Monsieur Salut: welcome to the small but beautifully formed Salut! Sunderland. Lowish midtable after last season’s promotion. Happy with that, in your first season back in League One, or a little worried that you could slip into the danger area?
Jon Dickinson: expectations are relatively low at the club after a turbulent decade where we nearly went out of business and were one result away from slipping into non-league, turning over Torquay 3-0 in the last game of 2013/14 to remain in the FL.
The club has got back on a solid footing, we have a passionate trust running the club and a committed bunch of players, refreshingly with very few egos on show. I think the bulk of fans realise that we are not going to rip up this league so mid to lower table would be a decent return this season.
Martin O’Neill! The man we always wanted to manage us, a boyhood Sunderland fan and ultimately a disappointment. But what a wonderful spell he had as your manager. As a supporter for 30 years, you are old enough to have experienced it. What was it like?
I had the privilege to interview him when I used to write for The Adams Family (Wycombe fanzine in the 1990s).
He turned up late and slightly grouchy but gave us an hour of his time and came out with some fascinating insights to both his career and what it was like inside the club. The interview ended with him literally kicking me up the a*** as I left his office having mocked him for the pre-season signing of an ageing Greek centre back called George Athananiou (he never featured in a game!).
The MON era propelled us from a mildly underachieving non-league club into a real lower league force and three trips to Wembley in five years realised boyhood dreams that many older fans thought they would never live to see. His legend status will be forever preserved at the club and it was with great pride that we saw him achieve great things at a number of other clubs – sadly not at Sunderland!
In the North East, older fans remember Wanderers as a power in amateur football – my dad was a Northern League club secretary (Shildon) and our neighbours include the once-mighty Bishop Auckland. Do your own older supporters sometimes miss those pre-professional days?
Funnily enough the 1957 FA Amateur Cup defeat to Bishop Auckland is still talked about as one of the club’s most memorable moments. 30,000 fans travelled to the game hoping to “Bash the Bishops” and some of the players from that era; Trott, Worley, Truett, Bates are still revered and woven into the fabric of the club.
I first started watching WWFC in the Isthmian League days and of course you can never recapture the romance of being free to “switch ends” at half-time or seeing your left-back lean into the crowd and take a drag on someone’s cigarette.
Entry to the league gave us a whole new level of competition which was exciting but there is a purity to the game that remains in the lower league, with some superb players who never make the leap into the professional game due to their reliance on a life outside of football.
Describe the way the club operates under supporters’ trust ownership?
I never find the workings of a modern football club particularly transparent but the current set up at Wycombe is probably as good as it gets. There are some very good people involved in the running of the club from the paid staff to the volunteers who work behind the scenes. When my son was in hospital recently (all good now!) I had a message sent to him from Gareth Ainsworth within the day of him being admitted. That doesn’t happen at any old club, so I do feel there are people who fully understand the positive opportunities that such a relationship can bring to a club. So I am pleased to support a club with such strong values.
Assess Trevor Stroud as chairman, and your former club captain Gareth Ainsworth as manager …
I have no issues with Trevor Stroud, who has steadied us through a tough period. However his and the board’s leadership will be tested by the current investment talks with Seaport Capital (Derby County) which will bring back bitter memories of the dark financial days of the Steve Hayes era, ex loans.co.uk entrepreneur, whose reign saw us descend into uncertain times and unprecedented debt.
Ainsworth on the other hand is close to MON status at the club. He is the second longest serving manager in England and has a real charisma and battling spirit which transfers onto the performances the fans see on the pitch.
When he turned up at the club as a player you could instantly feel the genuine passion that he brought to the club. His record in the transfer market is pretty impressive, especially his loan signings, and his backroom team remain dedicated and dependable. The football is not always pretty but the commitment and the camaraderie is as good as I have seen in a squad at this level. That alone grinds you out a few points when you don’t always expect them.
Looking at your squad, no names really leap out at me (but then I could have said the same about a lot of our players after so much change at the start of the season). Who is doing the business for you?
I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Adebayo Akinfenwa who is possibly one of the most recognisable players outside of the PL due to his size, his links to the FIFA franchise, his book and the fact that underneath the hype he is a fantastic target man [never under-estimate my ignorance – Ed]. He has been a revelation for us, although he may remain injured for our game this coming weekend.
Craig Mackail-Smith is another striker pushing mid-30s but the ex Peterborough, Brighton and Scotland international is an eye-catching (dyed blonde bouffant), all action striker who the fans love. In midfield I have really enjoyed watching Bryn Morris, who is on loan from Shrewsbury; he is extremely comfortable at this level, can run a game if the conditions are in his favour and possesses a brutal long range shot.
For a relatively small club you’ve had a lot of league and cups highs. Which ones stand out for you?
Leicester City away will forever be a stand out for me. Lawrie Sanchez had mixed popularity during his reign but his FA Cup run of 2000-01 was fairy-tale stuff.
Having dispatched Wolves, Grimsby and Wimbledon we pitched up at Filbert Street expecting a good day out but with little chance of a win against the in-form Foxes.
On the bench was a striker we had signed after a plea on Ceefax (remember that) the day before the game. Roy Essandoh was an unknown quantity but came on and scored an 86th minute winner which sent the Chairboys into utter raptures. It didn’t matter that he was utter garbage after that moment as he and the team had given us a lasting memory that will go to the grave. I can remember leaving the game staggering around drenched in sweat, strangers were hugging each other, it really was a special day.
The semi against Liverpool wasn’t bad either with a narrow 2-1 loss but it was the Leicester game that really did it for me.
And the lows?
For me it was a dreary Tuesday night jaunt to Basingstoke Town for a 1st round FA Cup replay in 1997. We lost on penalties and it was possibly the worst display I have seen from a Wycombe team. We had a young lad called Alan Beeton in defence and he looked like he had never kicked a ball in his life – which was made all the more hilarious as his agent had been talking him up as a possible Liverpool and Besiktas (!) target the week before. Utterly damp, cold and miserable night – It was like the whole team had been on the sauce – falling over, out of breath and devoid of any team spirit or idea.
Which players have given most pleasure in your colours?
Of the current crop it has to be Bayo Akinfenwa who has a star quality that you rarely see at clubs like Wycombe.
The diehards have a love thing for Matt Bloomfield as he has been at the club for over 12 years and I certainly have a lot of respect for him and the commitment and loyalty he has shown us over the years. Going back in time we had a wiry tousle-haired winger called David “Jesus” Carroll who was probably one of the most naturally gifted footballers I have seen and was a key part of the Martin O’Neill years. Think a lower league Le Tissier and you will get the picture – a real flair player and total fans’ favourite. Footage of him annihilating Preston with Simon Garner (another legend!) in the 1993/4 play off final can be found on YouTube [well worth waiting for the ad to finish – Ed]!
And who should have allowed nowhere near High Wycombe?
Tony Adams was utterly shocking as a manager.
We were delirious when he joined us after his illustrious career at Arsenal but that soon changed as it became aware that his lack of understanding of lower league football and inability to motivate players or fans was only going to end one way. Stand out memories for me were his dressing room rage aimed at a player eating an apple and his languid, dour demeanour when sat in the dugout. For someone who was such a leader on the pitch, his utterly bizarre persona off it has led to many Chairboys proclaiming that he was the worst manager in the club’s history.
Did Sunderland’s sharp decline shock you?
Yes and no. 20 years ago we did the double over Manchester City in League One. A lot of kids just laugh at you disbelievingly when you mention this to them but it was true. We have seen many big clubs move up and down the divisions such as Man City, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City and now Sunderland. In many ways it is fantastic for a fan of a small club to see these clubs show up on the fixture list, but it is also tinged with sadness as you know that somewhere along the line the club has been poorly managed. The upside for Sunderland might well be that in 20 years’ time you could be the next Man City !!!
Other thoughts on the club, its fans, the city and region, Jack Ross?
Never been there but a straw poll around the office mentioned the following words – passionate, dreary, Nissan, earnest, mining, Brexit, docks, stripes, Niall Quinn & the Roker Roar! Take what you will from that ….. clearly a mixed bag.
Jack Ross looks to be a very strong manager and his record so far in Scotland and now Sunderland is impressive. All Wycombe fans will be looking out for our very own Luke O’Nien who had such a good season for us last campaign. I know he hasn’t quite got going for you yet but I hope you get to see the best of him. He is clearly a great lad and did a lot to bridge the gap between the players and fans – everyone here at Wycombe wishes him well. He is utterly fearless – however he does fall over a lot though!
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
Listen, something is wrong if you don’t get promoted this season and as for us – as I mentioned earlier – 12th to 15th place would be a good return.
The World Cup: still an event to savour or a quickly fading memory?
I’ve probably written enough but I personally enjoy the spectacle – I mean you get to watch football all year round during a tournament year! Having said that Qatar 2022 could be shaping up to be a bit of a farce!
One step the authorities should take to improve the lot of the ordinary fan?
I think the youth system plays so heavily into the Premier League these days that the balance is wrong.
Wycombe had a fantastic academy in the early part of 2000s – bringing through a number of players like Josh Scowen (Barnsley, QPR) Jordon Ibe (Liverpool, Bournemouth) Kadeem Harris (Cardiff) Matt Ingram (QPR) Matt Phillips (West Brom) and Kourtney Hause (Wolves). However this collapsed through the introduction of EPPP and we now have to rely on picking up young players on free transfers or through the loan market. I really miss seeing the academy boys coming through and as I coach a local team it is depressing to see some of the best young players going off to Oxford United and MK Dons.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
It was the fixture that all Chairboys looked out for at the start of the season but sadly it clashed with my annual jaunt with the lads to Minehead Butlins for the Shiiine On Indie festival …
Hopes of a postponement due to international call-ups appear to be dashed so while the goals are flying in I will probably be watching Cud while drinking warm beer out of a plastic glass.
A gutsy draw would be an incredible result and I am sure teams lift their game in a stadium like yours. However I expect a narrow defeat – let’s call it 2-1 – hopefully without Luke O’Nien scoring the winner from outside the area……
From the mid-80s onwards I have been pretty hooked and now attend with the family and some of the original crew from back then. In the early 90s a group of us wrote The Adams Family fanzine which produced over 30 copies during the MON era. In recent years my band Subrosa5 have played local gigs – once with Gareth ‘Gaz’ Ainsworth on lead vocals singing his favourite tracks from The Who and The Doors (see photos)
Interview: Colin Randall