“I never dreamt that at 19, when I signed an 18-month contract, that 14 years later I’d still be here. But that’s the way it’s gone, I’ve grown attached to this place and I love playing for Wycombe Wanderers.”
The words of Matt Bloomfield, who arrived at Adams Park as a fresh-faced teenager back in December of 2003.
After making a solitary appearance with Ipswich Town, the midfielder made the move to Wycombe, and he has not looked back since. Almost a decade and a half later, Bloomfield remains a regular in the Chairboys’ side. Recently, he racked up his 400th EFL appearance for the club, a momentous feat that will rarely be repeated.
“It was a really proud moment,” reflected Bloomfield, who celebrated the landmark occasion with his first goal of the season, scoring in a New Year’s Day triumph over Forest Green Rovers. “It’s fairly unheard of these days, you don’t get too many players reaching that. Four hundred games is great, but it’s just another milestone ticked off. There’s still plenty more I want to achieve.
“With contracts at this level it’s usually just one or two years, and the nature of the beast is such that players move on, whether it’s their or the club’s decision — there’s no security. Each time my contract has neared an end I’ve wanted to stay, the club’s wanted me to stay and we’ve always come to an agreement for that to happen. There are times along the years where it’s not 100 per cent you’re staying, but for me it’s always been my number one choice, and there’s never been any other offer that’s taken my breath away. As the years have gone by, it’s always needed to be more and more to get me away because I just love playing here.”
Bloomfield experienced the lows of dropping into League Two in his maiden season with the club, and then there were the rollercoaster four seasons which saw Wycombe promoted, relegated, promoted and relegated again, most recently in 2012. Play-off heartache, remarkable cup runs, dramatic last-day survival… as you’d expect, he’s pretty much seen it all.
The aforementioned cup run came in 2006/07 when, under the guidance of Paul Lambert, Wycombe advanced to the League Cup Semi-Finals to take on Chelsea. A 4-0 reverse at Stamford Bridge put paid to any Wembley dreams, but the 1-1 first-leg draw at Adams Park against Jose Mourinho’s men, featuring the likes of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Michael Ballack, will forever stick in the memory.
In 2013/14, at the wrong end of the league ladder, Wycombe were involved in a four-way battle to stay in the EFL. Three points adrift of safety on the last day of the season, a 3-0 win at Torquay United, coupled with defeat for Bristol Rovers, kept the Chairboys up. Since that day, Gareth Ainsworth’s troops have been competing at the right end of the table. In 2015, they suffered Play-Off Final heartache against Southend United, and they’re in the running for promotion this year, currently outside the top three on goal difference alone.
“There have been a lot of highs along the way, and I like to think there are more to come,” replied the 33-year-old, when asked about his career highlights to date. “For a League Two club to get to the League Cup Semi-Final and to get a draw out of Chelsea at that time, with the team they had, was an incredible achievement. The promotions were great and, as silly as it sounds, the celebrating of the near-catastrophe at Torquay.
“You don’t like to celebrate failure but had we dropped out the league, I dare say that I’d have moved on, the manager would have moved on and the club might have looked totally different. I knew what it meant to a lot of people that worked at the club and supported the club. Since that day, we’ve built ourselves back up. We’re on a stable footing now, the support off the pitch has always been incredible, and League One is our aim.
Proudest day of my career. So happy and relieved, thank you all for your support it means so much! #weAREstayingUP— Matt Bloomfield (@B10OMFIELD) May 3, 2014
“We had a solid first half of the season and the new year has started well with two wins. If you’d have offered us this position by mid-January at the start of the season, we would have taken it. We know that we haven’t hit our top form, and there’s more to come. We’ve been flirting with promotion the last few years, but we think we’re better this year than we were then — hopefully our final league position will show that.
“The great thing here is continuity. The squad’s been evolving over the last two years, we know each other’s games, we’ve had some good loan signings come in to boost us, and we’ve got a good core — a group of men in that changing room that have a strong work ethic, high standards, want to do well and want to achieve. That stands you in good stead.”
An all-action midfielder on the pitch, Bloomfield is just as busy off of it. What keeps the family man occupied more than most is his two girls at home, but he also has a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting, he has opened the Matt Bloomfield Academy, and he’s working towards his UEFA ‘A’ license, which he hopes to achieve by the end of the current campaign.
There’s plenty more left in the tank — Bloomfield even points out that his GPS data still show he’s in perfect shape — but coaching is something he can picture himself doing when the time eventually comes to hang up his boots. His current boss has demonstrated that the transition from player to manager can be made seamlessly and maybe, just maybe, Bloomfield will find himself in the Adams Park dugout one day…
“The Academy is growing, it’s a slow burner because of the time I have to dedicate to it, but it’s exciting and I really enjoy that. It’s great to see the kids coming along and having that innocence of just loving the game. That’s brilliant — it’s why we started playing football. I’m working towards my coaching badges, I do a bit of journalism when I get the time. I enjoy all the different sides of my life, but the priority is always my family and playing football, and the other bits fit around that.
“I’ve been able to watch the gaffer’s journey. He was my roommate for several years, became a coach and then stepped into the hot seat. The money restraints put on him have been tough, he’s not always been able to bring in the players he wants, he’s dipped into the loan market, free transfers, and he’s done incredibly well to get us where we are year after year. He galvanises people, the lads want to do well for him and he carries players on the journey with him. Richard Dobson [Wycombe's assistant manager] alongside him is very tactical, very technical, and they complement each other well.
“I’ve learned a lot from them, and who knows what the future may hold for me in that department? If the opportunity [of managing Wycombe] ever presented itself then you’re not going to turn it down, but all I’m trying to do at the moment is educate myself and get in a position where if a coaching opportunity came about then I’d be ready to take it — but I don’t see myself retiring anytime soon.”