Wycombe Wanderers have defied the odds to reach the second tier of English football for the first time in their 133-year history. The Chairboys capped a remarkable season when they secured a 2-1 victory over Oxford United in the League One playoff final. They had one of the smallest budgets in the division, but they played exciting football throughout the campaign and they have been rewarded with promotion to the Championship. These are the key factors in their rise to prominence:
An Iconic Manager
Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth is the longest serving manager in the top four divisions of English football. He joined the club in February 2010 as a classy midfielder with an eye for a cross, and he was named in the PFA League Two Team of the Year the following season. He had already served two stints as player-manager during his time at QPR, so Wycombe appointed him caretaker manager after sacking Gary Waddock in September 2012. He guided them to safety that season and landed the player-manager job on a permanent basis.
Ainsworth retired as a player in 2013 – although he made a cameo appearance as a substitute in an EFL Trophy game in 2016 and provided an assist as his team won 3-0 – but continued in the dugout. He has remained committed to the club ever since. Ainsworth was named League Two Manager of the Year for 2014-15 after steering his team to a fourth placed finish, and the Chairboys secured promotion to League 1 in 2018.
They were expected to drop straight back down, but Ainsworth worked wonders on a shoestring budget and guided them to a 17th place last term. Nobody gave them a chance of success this season, but Ainsworth led them to glory. He turned down offers to manage Sunderland, Millwall, Barnsley and QPR, and Wycombe fans can be thankful for his continued loyalty. He is also a part-time rock star, as he serves as the lead singer of Cold Blooded Hearts, but he says promotion is his greatest hit.
A Unique Model
Wycombe have been broke throughout Ainsworth’s time at the club. He recalls going on eBay and buying nets for £29.95 ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, as his men were training without them. They do not have a reserve team, an academy or even a goalkeeping coach. It is just the first team, the manager, his assistants and a few backroom staff keeping the club afloat. Yet Ainsworth and his colleagues have displayed great dexterity in the transfer market, fashioning a team out of washed-up veterans and inexperienced youngsters and inspiring them to greatness.
Chief among them is legendary forward Adebayo Akinfenwa, who implored managers to “hit me up on Whatsapp and get me a job” after helping AFC Wimbledon achieve promotion to League One in 2016. He was 34 years old and “technically unemployed” at the time, but Ainsworth took a punt on him. It turned out to be an inspired decision. The 5 ft. 11 ins striker tips the scales at a massive 101kg, and he has thrown his weight around to devastating fashion for the Chairboys.
Akinfenwa has always endured jibes about being fat, but in reality, he is actually built like a brick outhouse. He can bench press 200kg, and opponents know better than to mess with a man dubbed “The Beast”. He is not the quickest, but he is blessed with uncanny levels of grace and flair for such a big man, and he has banged in 46 goals in 152 league games for Wycombe, despite rarely playing the full 90 minutes.
He was their top scorer this season, accounting for 10 of their 45 goals, and that left them sitting third in the table when play was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Akinfenwa did not play such a decisive role in proceedings during the playoffs, but he is a leader within that dressing room and his influence was vital.
A Team Effort
Akinfenwa is a larger-than-life character and he has dominated the headlines since Wycombe’s unlikely triumph – bantering with Jurgen Klopp and generally cementing his status as a cult hero – but this was a team effort from the Chairboys. Goals from Nnamdi Ofoborh, Alex Cairns, David Wheeler and Alex Samuel handed them an emphatic 4-1 victory over Joey Barton’s Fleetwood in the playoff semi-finals, and a brace from Fred Onyedinma secured a 2-2 draw in the second leg to wrap up a 6-3 victory.
Centre-back Anthony Stewart was named man of the match in the final after putting his team 1-0 up and defending heroically throughout. Mark Sykes pulled Oxford level with a freak strike, but Wycombe showed great determination to rally. Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood brought Onyedinma down in the box with 10 minutes to play, and Joe Jacobson kept his cool to fire in the penalty.
Captain Matt Bloomfield has been a titan throughout the campaign, and every single Wycombe player can look back on this season with tremendous pride. They will now head into the Championship with some exciting fixed odds to accompany them, and it will be a case of Beast Mode On as they bid to go one better and reach the Premier League.