As befits a man returning from the county of Buckinghamshire, wot is down south, Pete Sixsmith, imbued with culture, has written a masterly account of a divided nation, of skulduggery and of a last minute reprieve.
Those of you who, in the Bard’s words “lack the stomach for this fight” are advised to turn your heads from this page.
Those of you who have seen Friday nights in the singing ends of the CIU will be all right
WYCOMBE WANDERERS; A PLAY IN THREE ACTS
ACT 1. THAME
It was another early start as the merry band of travellers assembled in Spennymoor High Street to the amusement and condescension of those wretches waiting for buses to take them to work. It was also wet and cold but the coach turned up on time and off we went, heading for the foreign land that is Buckinghamshire and associated Home Counties.
Sleet fell as we passed through Durham and North Yorkshire, with a watery sun peeping out as we crossed into the western part of that fine county. Through Yorkshire’s West and South, into Derbyshire, Notts and Leics and then Northants before we were back in Oxfordshire, a mere four weeks after our last visit. Bicester was by passed and Oxford was omitted as the small town of Thame was chosen for pre match refreshment. And thereby hangs a tale of two nations…..
One of the positives about this season has been the fact that we have visited parts of England that I am not familiar with. Bicester and Newport Pagnell have all hosted the Durham Branch coach, a coach that is assiduously run by Stan Simpson and where permission is always sought from the relevant authorities before we descend on a town. Thame was chosen because it had a good selection of pubs, bookies and eating places and that it was less than 40 minutes from there to High Wycombe. So, at 11.30 we poured out of the coach and onto the wide main street of a town that has almost the same population as Shildon.
There are other similarities. It has a Costa. It has a Main Street. It has a Ladbrokes. There is an Italian restaurant. Arriva have the local bus contract. But with minor similarities, there also comes huge differences. Unlike Shildon it has banks – several of them. It has speciality shops. It has a White Stuff. Only affluent towns have White Stuff. It had a shop dedicated to Agas and their associated cookware.
And most of all, it had money.
The estate agents advertised functional houses for £444,000. A similar one in South West Durham would cost half that. The population was predominantly young and professional and drove high range Audis and Range Rovers. There was an equal predominance of personalised registration plates. The young people were smartly dressed in proper designer gear and expensive trainers. There was no B and M Bargains or Sports Direct bags.
As I waited (and waited and waited) for a light lunch, I listened to the conversations in the café. The well-modulated Home Counties vowels covered topics very different from those that are discussed in my home area. I looked up the town and saw that it was in the Henley Parliamentary constituency, so they must have had Boris Johnson as their MP at some time. Well, there’s another connection; Boris visited Shildon during the last General Election and I would imagine that there is a majority of Brexit voters in Thame just as there is in Shildon.
It really was two nations. One nation was affluent, clean and well cared for, the other struggling, a tad grubby and unkempt in places. George Orwell would have had a field day here.
ACT TWO; THE GAME.
The 90 minutes plus that followed was a bit of a throwback as well. After a winning run of three league games and a semi-final, we went into this one with some optimism. Cattermole and James were restored (to general acclamation) and we entered the neat and tidy stadium, complete with circling Red Kites, looking for another win and wins for Accrington at Barnsley (unlikely) and Plymouth at home to Luton (more likely).
As it was, we were fortunate to get out of Bucks with a point. The first half display was poor and we had but one chance, a shot from McGeady that went past the post. Wycombe had the better chances. Luke Bolton missed an absolute sitter in the 17 minute when he blazed wide from a position that Danny Graham might have scored from but that was only delaying the inevitable.
Morgan was dispossessed by Gape and he released Cowan-Hall, whose accurate pass reached the unmarked Samuel (where were our defenders?) who swept it past McLaughlin to put the home team ahead and start the most concerted period of time wasting I have seen for many a day.
Some (me included) would argue that Samuel should not have been on the field of play. He had been booked for an awful foul on O’Nien in the 12 minute and many referees would have seen it as a red. Unfortunately, Lee Swabey, playing the part of the out of his depth supply teacher perfectly, chose not to and that encouraged Wycombe to reprise their falling over, pretending to be injured, taking aeons over a throw in/goal kick performance that had so entranced the Stadium of Light crowd way back in November.
Not that they didn’t deserve to be ahead. They were the better side and Samuel, a small, nippy player like Accrington’s Paul Smyth, caused Dunne in particular, serious problems. Dunne is fine against big players; he isn’t when he is put under pressure on the deck.
We did well to go in only 1 down. Ross replaced James with Matthews and we looked a little more like a team desperate to get out of this division. Flanagan’s header hit the bar and bounced over. Honeyman limped off and was replaced by Watmore. The ineffectual Morgan, restricted by a narrow pitch, was replaced by Gooch.
But we could and should have gone two behind. Cowan-Hall headed wide when he should have scored and McLaughlin made a couple of smart saves. And all the time, the Wycombe players went down and Lee Swabey fell for it.
It broke up the game and we weren’t capable of rising above it. McGeady was booked for dissent after a soft free kick was awarded against him. He hadn’t sparkled but he shook himself and got down to digging out an equaliser – which he did.
He cut in from the left side, went to the by-line and pulled a ball back for Leadbitter to crash in a shot. Ryan Allsopp in the Wanderers goal pushed it out when he should have dropped on it and Duncan Watmore, showing great determination, thumped home a very late leveller.
Cue wild scenes on the pitch and on the terraces.
And even wilder ones on the touchline.
ACT THREE; THE STRAMASH
The word “stramash” is a Scots word meaning “a noisy commotion or uproar” from the French word “escarmoche,” meaning a skirmish. And that is what we got in the 90 whatever minute it was timed at. This is how I saw it.
The ball went out for a throw in to us and one of the Wycombe staff tried to keep hold of it so George Honeyman pushed him away. In Thame, a polite request would have been made. Honeyman is from Prudhoe where polite requests are rare.
There was a crowding round of players as the Wycombe bench and ours pitched in and players on the field ran over to join in. Both managers wisely kept out of it and it eventually settled down before the referee, having his moment of glory, sent two substituted players off in Honeyman and Nathan Tyson and issued a couple of yellows to people in the crowd just for good measure.
When the stramash finished and the game resumed Marcus Bean, who had played well for Wycombe, received a second yellow for a spiteful and unpleasant challenge on Watmore, a foul that you expect to see on Shildon Rec on a Sunday morning but not on a professional football pitch. It should have been a straight red.
And so, we trooped back to the coaches and negotiated the tortuous trip out of the Industrial Estate and on to the long and weary road home, arriving back at Sixsmith Towers at 11.00 p.m. after leaving the old homestead at 6.00a.m.
EPILOGUE: SOME OBSERVATIONS ON OUR PERFORMANCE.
- For most of the game, it wasn’t good.
- We played the long ball from the back far too much and Grigg never got into the game at all. He was well marshalled by the two home central defenders who played well.
- The narrow pitch did not help us and, with hindsight, we may have been better with another central midfielder in to break up their play. Either Power or McGeough may have improved this area. Two wide men appeared a luxury.
- We did play better in the second half but only because we couldn’t have been a great deal worse than we had in the first.
- As in previous games we showed resilience and came back from a losing position – but did not win.
- The Barnsley game is now almost a must win. A win here and a draw would have been satisfactory at Oakwell. They may not be quite as adept at gamesmanship as Wycombe are.