Jack Grimmer would love nothing more than a second chance at the Sky Bet Championship. And who better to get there with than the club that reignited his love for the game.
After moving to Fulham from Aberdeen at the age of 18, Grimmer managed only 13 appearances for the London club, before moving on and, by his own admission, wasn’t quite ready for the big stage. Now he wants a second chance at it.
“On a personal note, I’d love to get another crack at the Championship,” Grimmer says, speaking to the EFL ahead of Monday’s Play-Off Final between Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers.
“I played a bit of Championship football with Fulham a long time ago, but I was at a stage in my career where I just wasn’t quite ready. I was a bit young and naive in all honesty, and I was thrust into a team that was expecting promotion. I found that hard to deal with mentally at such a young age.”
After loan spells with Port Vale and Shrewsbury Town, the 26 year old signed for Coventry City - where he achieved promotion from League Two, before signing for Wycombe in July 2019.
“Now that I’ve had that footballing journey and come back up through the leagues, to achieve promotion back to where I want to get to would be unbelievable,” he continues.
“And it would be even better to do it with this team. I don’t think you’d ever wipe the smile off my face."
As well as hoping for a second crack at the Sky Bet Championship, Monday night will also be Grimmer's second visit to Wembley, a second Play-Off Final to be more specific.
The Scot rounded off an impressive debut season at Coventry with promotion from Sky Bet League Two in 2018, as a 3-1 victory over Exeter City in front of 50,000 fans at Wembley saw the Sky Blues achieve a first promotion in 51 years. His impressive long-range strike also got him on the scoresheet that day.
“I really don’t remember very much about that day itself,” Grimmer reveals after being asked about that day at Wembley.
“I remember scoring my goal and I remember the feeling at full-time, but I’ve not idea what went on in the game. I remember trying to eat my pre-match meal and with every mouthful I was just forcing it down. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before.
“But for that day to end the way it did, especially with me scoring that goal, it’s actually something I’ve watched back thousands of times I must admit!"
In stark contrast to two years ago, there will be no fans at the National Stadium on Monday night to witness Wycombe Wanderers make history, should they defeat Oxford United.
“Experiencing promotion and scoring a goal with 40,000 Coventry City fans in the ground was incredible. It’ll certainly be strange this time around with no one there. We’re hoping to be celebrating the pinnacle of our career, and to have that opportunity with no one in the stadium, it really does hit home how important fans are to this game.
"It’ll be a completely different experience, but there’s even more on the line for us and for me this time around. The Championship beckons."
Despite his performances in the 2017/18 season - including that memorable strike in the League Two Play-Off Final, the following season saw Grimmer make just 13 appearances for Mark Robins’ side, before being released at the end of the season, only to be without a club heading into the 2019/20 campaign.
“It was such a massive learning curve for me,” Grimmer admits, discussing his release from Coventry.
“The season before last I obviously scored at Wembley, we won at Wembley and got promoted, and then last season I found myself not in the team and I just fell out of favour with the manager. All of a sudden in the summer I didn’t know where I was going to be and there was so much uncertainty around my future.
“I’d had a few conversations with clubs, but nothing felt like the right fit. I knew I wanted to play football, I knew I wanted to feel wanted and I knew I wanted to feel part of a team. I had that in my first season at Coventry and I thrive off that, but nothing quite ticked enough boxes for me."
It sounds like Grimmer was waiting for something special, somewhere he could feel part of a team, someone to reignite his love for the game.
And then he answered a call from Gareth Ainsworth.
“As soon as Gareth Ainsworth called, I just had that feeling. He’s always been a manager I thought I’d like to play for and I thought he’d be someone I’d connect with. When I spoke to him it just felt right.
“I had some sleepless nights last summer not knowing what was going to happen and it was a horrible experience, but I’m very, very thankful that I am where I am now. Holding off for the right club was absolutely the right decision for my happiness and my enjoyment of the game.
"Getting that call from the manager just made me more hungry than ever to repay the faith shown in my by signing me. And that hunger is something that runs through the entire squad here, that’s why the gaffer gets the best out of everyone.”
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. It’s hard to believe that, at the start of the season, their aim was simply survival.
“I still need to pinch myself,” Grimmer says, laughing.
“Even at Christmas when we were at the top end of the table, we were still saying to one another ‘look, just get to 50 points!’ I don’t think anyone expected this.
“We’ve created a lot of noise throughout the league as being ‘little old Wycombe’ and that’s definitely something we’ve thrived off. This is a team full of players that have been written off by a lot of people somewhere down the line. I know all players have had that at some point, but with us, we’re a team that have come together and done well when no one has backed us.
“We have a changing room full of strong characters, which I know is a cliché, but I’ve genuinely never experienced a changing room like this Wycombe one in my time in football.
"It’s been an absolute journey from the start and something I’ve loved being a part of."
Whilst it’s clear that each squad member has played their part in Wycombe’s impressive journey, what is even more clear from speaking to Grimmer, is quite how much of that impressive journey is down to Gareth Ainsworth, his man management and the culture he has created at the football club.
He has built something special in Buckinghamshire, and every single player wants to be a part of that.
“In a world that is very stereotypical when it comes to footballers, Gareth Ainsworth sees us all as people and who we really are,” Grimmer says.
“He sees us as people who have families, people who have dogs, people who have children and people who are moving house or planning their next holiday. He sees us as individuals and that’s his biggest strength as a manger.
“He gave us this speech ahead of the Fleetwood game. He spoke to us about our families, who we were playing for, who we win for and who we care for. It really touched me and afterwards I wasn’t sure if I was ready to run through a brick wall for him or cry!
"Our players aren’t afraid to be themselves and in nine years worth of changing rooms, this one is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
"For me, that just proves that I came into the perfect place and the perfect football club."
It’s already a great story. Now there is just one more hurdle before Wycombe Wanderers get their fairytale ending.
“I drive past Wembley every day to get to training,” he continues. “At the start of the season no one was even thinking about promotion, so to achieve that and give something as good as promotion back to the gaffer and his team would be incredible.
“One thing I will say about this club is, they’re an incredibly humble bunch of lads. The senior players keep us grounded and level-headed and that’s so important. To give something back to the players who have also been here a long time like Blooms, JJ and Bayo would be the best feeling in the world.
"Everyone deserves it and here’s hoping we can achieve that on Monday. I can’t wait.”