For the first time in their 133-year history, the Chairboys have a seat at the Championship table.
Wycombe Wanderers’ wondrous campaign – one which, before it had even started, had seen them tipped for relegation – concluded with something quite the opposite under the famous Wembley arch on Monday evening.
“We’d run through a brick wall for him,” midfielder Jack Grimmer said of manager Gareth Ainsworth in the build-up, and run through a wall they did, picking up where they had left off against Fleetwood Town in the Semi-Finals by putting Oxford United to the sword at the National Stadium.
Away from the pitch, Ainsworth – the longest-serving manager in the EFL - is the front man in a local band, and had twice put practice on hold for the Play-Off run to take precedence. A member of the Preston North End side ironically beaten by Wycombe in the same Final in 1994, his current side aren’t known for rock and roll football, and nor do they have to be, for this was a result which capped a truly remarkable season.
The 2019/20 campaign saw the club welcome American businessman Rob Couhig and his family into Adams Park and record some of their highest attendances in a decade.
It saw them lose just once between the opening day on 3 August and 21 December, and top the table through the busy winter and into the New Year. It saw their 33-year-old left-back, Joe Jacobson, score a hat-trick of set-pieces against Lincoln City. It saw them find the net twice in three minutes to beat Southend United 4-3. It saw them score six goals over two Semi-Final matches – with four in the away leg - to book their place in the Final.
It saw them spring a surprise, time and time again.
Theirs is a dressing room guided by a long-haired leader and buoyed by the world’s strongest footballer in Adebayo Akinfenwa, who contributed both promotion experience and double-digit goals to the cause. It quickly became clear that this would be no regular season but, like the players themselves, the club stayed grounded and true to its values.
Empty for just the second time for a competitive fixture as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Stadium filled with the sound of celebration as Anthony Stewart opened the scoring in the Play-Off Final, heading home from a corner within the opening 10 minutes. They’d scored 24 set-piece goals during the regular season so, as Wycombe surprises go, this was far from top of the list.
From the West End dugout at Wembley to homes and pubs in Wycombe, it was an effort which meant so much to so many. Supporters may not have been there to see this moment in the flesh, but you can bet it won’t have taken away from the joy, at the end of what has been a testing period for us all.
During lockdown, the club announced the installation of the ‘Wanderer Wall’ at Adams Park, which will feature more than 700 tiles dedicated to the fans, players and staff who played a part on the road to promotion. It will serve as a way to immortalise what has been a season to remember for the club, and perhaps the start of a journey altogether more exciting than the last.
Separated geographically by just 25 miles, by a single point in the final League One standings and a single goal in their only previous meeting this season, Oxford and Wycombe will now be divided by a division when the 2020/21 season gets under way. It is testament to the Chairboys’ underdog spirit and never-say-die attitude, the same attitude displayed in abundance as Jacobson restored their lead from the penalty spot at Wembley.
A tweet from the club’s official account on the eve of their triumph read: ‘The outcome of the final won't define this team. They've already done enough to achieve greatness. But they don't stop at 'enough'. That's what makes us so proud to follow them on their journey.’
Now, a place in the second tier beckons for Wycombe, history makers at the home of football. They certainly haven’t stopped at ‘enough’ yet, and you can be sure they won't do so in the unpredictable world that is the top level of the English Football League.