Wycombe Wanderers are on the cusp of something special.
Not only are they on the verge of making history, but there’s something admirable about those that pull on the shirt each week as well, each person playing their part in the club’s impressive rise up the EFL.
This season, on the pitch, Wycombe have performed better than anyone could have predicted - even the players - and now they find themselves competing for a place in the Sky Bet Championship for the first time in their 133-year history.
But there is far more to their story than that. It’s not just about the football at Wycombe; it's about the people, and creating a culture that people want to be a part of.
One player who has been at the heart of the side for six years now, is 33-year-old defender Joe Jacobson.
“It’s not just about the football here,” Jacobson says, speaking to the EFL ahead of the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi-Finals.
“The setup is really good at Wycombe, they really look after you as players. They may not have the biggest budget or sign the best players, but they create a culture where players love to be around and want to be a part of it for as long as they can.
“Players come in early, they stay late, players come in on loan and can’t wait to sign permanently, and it’s been really nice for me to be at the club such a long time and see players progress, as well as seeing the club progress as a whole - both on and off the pitch. It really has come on leaps and bounds in recent years."
These days, a player that has been at a club for six seasons would probably be its longest-serving player. At Wycombe however - despite being on the books since 2014, Joe Jacobson is nowhere near. Matt Bloomfield holds that record - 16 years and 520 appearances.
Jacobson’s Wycombe journey began back in 2014, shortly after the Chairboys had narrowly escaped relegation out of the Football League.
“When I signed in 2014, Wycombe has just survived relegation out of the league completely,” Jacobson recalls.
“If that hadn’t have ended how it did, I may never have signed for the club because of the financial situation. When you look at that, the journey it’s been on since that day is incredible.
“The owners want to take this club further and further and whilst I might not be around forever, there’ll be some players who will enjoy that journey with the club and I can only imagine that if it’s not now, at some point in the future Wycombe Wanderers will be playing football in the Championship."
The Chairboys' third-placed finish in League One this season is their highest ever in English football, with the club also making its first-ever appearance in the third-tier Play-Offs.
It’s hard to believe that, at the start of the season, their aim was simply to survive in League One for another season.
“At the start of pre-season we only had nine players,” Jacobson reveals. “But even when we started signing players, there was never any pressure from the manager to get promotion or even make the Play-Offs.
“He just said ‘let’s get to the 50 or 55-point target to make sure we survive’, and that’s been the case all the way through. Even now, there’s no pressure on us to do anything. We just want to play well, give it everything we’ve got and see where it takes us."
A mix of ability and stability from Gareth Ainsworth, the EFL’s longest-serving manager has built something special in Buckinghamshire, both on and off the pitch and much of Wycombe’s success this season is down to the environment he has created for his players.
“Win, lose or draw at the weekend, the manager always comes in on Monday morning bouncing around ready to go again,” Jacobson continues.
“He creates such a healthy environment to be in and that’s so infectious, you can’t help but want to run through brick walls for him.
“We have these development days that we take part in, and it’s nothing to do with football, it’s to make us better people. And that all comes down to him wanting to have good people at the football club.
“Something that sums him up perfectly is, throughout this entire time we’ve been in lockdown, he’s phoned me at least once a week just to ask me how I’m doing, how my wife is doing, how her work is and just how people are coping. It’s had nothing to do with football and that’s amazing. He’s such a humble human being.
“You always know what you’re going to get with him, there’s no up and down and that works for us as a team. Personally, I think this is a great place for players to be - young and old. The way the football club looks after you, it just makes you want to carry on your football. I know for me, being here has prolonged my career."
Jacobson has made the headlines a number of times this season. He scored his first brace in professional football in September 2019, with a hat-trick of set-pieces for the Chairboys, and with his attacking contributions and defensive stability, there’s no doubt that he has been key to Gareth Ainsworth’s side’s success this season.
“I think regardless of the goals I’ve scored I feel it’s been my best season performance wise,” he admits.
“The gaffer helps me a lot, he’s simplified my game and that’s how he’s got the best out of me. It’s been nice for me to be involved with goals from an attacking point of view. I feel I’ve contributed in all areas and I’ve probably enjoyed this season more than any other to be honest with you.”
But there is just one more hurdle before this incredible story has its fairytale ending - not just for Jacobson, but for everyone associated with Wycombe Wanderers.
Wycombe are no strangers to the Play-Offs, and although this is their first time competing for a place in the second tier, this will in fact be the club’s fifth Play-Off campaign, gaining promotion via this route in 1994, but falling short in 2006, 2008 and 2015.
“I didn’t actually know that!” Jacobson reveals, when asked about Wycombe’s previous three Play-Off losses.
“But there’s not really been any mention of previous Play-Off Finals. Everyone in the side has their own successes and promotions with other clubs, and some people have had bad experiences in the Play-Offs, but this is new territory for us now, trying to get into the Championship.
“We as a club have finished higher than we ever have before, and that’s great, but we don’t want to rest on that as players. We’ve had a season to be proud of but we really want to finish it off and have that chance of Championship football."
Tonight they face Fleetwood Town, who are also looking to reach the Championship for the first time in history, and with just one point separating the two sides in the regular League One season, predictions go out the window for this one.
“League One this season has been crazy, there have been so many Clubs in the mix right from the start, it’s been so competitive.
“Fleetwood have had a very good season. With a manger like Joey Barton, he’ll no doubt have his players fired up for the game and we need to make sure we can match that. We’ve got to be intense, we’ll have to work hard and make sure our game plan is successful. If we do that, we’ll be successful on the night.
“We’ve said for six months or so that if we got to this position we’d give absolutely everything we had to finish it off. We’ve got a massive opportunity in front of us and we’re only three games away from being a Championship club."