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League One

Are Wanderers ‘little’ Wycombe no longer?

21 August 2021

It is indicative of the speed of Wycombe Wanderers’ transition from interlopers to mainstays of the Sky Bet League One promotion pack that no-one has been surprised by their fine start to the new campaign.

How different it was just two short seasons ago when Gareth Ainsworth’s side surprised everyone as they surged to the top of the League One table, eventually converting a fine first six months into a COVID-delayed Play-Off Final victory.

They were given little chance of even being competitive in the Sky Bet Championship last season, let alone staying up, but again demonstrated a solidarity and defiance of relegation that took their fight into the final week.

Five of their last eight games were won, momentum was built and an expectation was forged within the dressing room that the club’s ambitions have now been re-shaped.

“In the changing room after one of the last games of the season when it was pretty much done that we would be relegated, the gaffer said: ‘Right, who now wants a promotion?’”

The words are those of left-back Joe Jacobson, now in his eighth season at Adams Park, two fewer than Ainsworth. Now 34, the former Wales Under-21 captain understands the importance of continuity in the club’s rise.

He added: “We came within a point or a decision or a chance of staying up last season when no-one gave us a chance of getting 10 points, let alone the 40-odd that we got, especially after the start we had, without a point after seven games. There were probably even people in-house who thought it would be a long season.

“It shows that we’ve got a special culture. I know it’s easy to say – and lots of Clubs do talk about their changing room – but it’s so different to anywhere I’ve been at. A lot of players say the same when they come. That gives us extra value going forward.

“There are teams signing all the players in the world, but you can’t just create a squad and a team with that. You have to do more than that and Wycombe have been known to get a lot more than what they have paid for people. It’s about what those players create around the place and the bonds they create, a lot more than just being players on the pitch.

“When they sign players at Wycombe, they talk about signing the person. They would never sign anyone with a bad reputation or who would disrupt the culture that we’ve got there. They screen your social media, they call around, they know a lot about your life before you sign and I think that’s why so many players love being here.

“We had Darius Charles a couple of seasons ago. He was basically told he wouldn’t be able to play again but the club gave him another contract because they said: ‘You are so good around the place, you help to create this culture, so we want to keep you here.’ That’s just as important as being out on the pitch training and playing. I don’t think Clubs realise how important those kinds of people and characters are to have around the place to help everyone who is in the team.

“A lot of managers just think about their 11 or 12 for the Saturday and don’t really care about everyone else. The next week they’ll deal with it. That’s why managers and players fall out whereas at Wycombe I’ve been here seven or eight years and I can’t think of many players that the gaffer’s ever had to fall out with apart from something that’s happened on the pitch.”

Jacobson himself has found a home in Buckinghamshire. Last season was the first time he had stepped out in the Sky Bet Championship since a debut 15-minute substitute appearance for hometown club Cardiff City as a 19-year-old.

The road travelled to Wycombe took in stops at Bristol Rovers, Oldham Athletic, Accrington Stanley and Shrewsbury Town but apart from his departure from Cardiff, Jacobson has never been transferred in his career. He was released by Rovers, Oldham and Shrewsbury, while his contract at Stanley had ended when he joined the Shrews.

That is even harder to fathom when you consider how prolific Jacobson has become at providing goal assists from set pieces in recent seasons.

“A part of me wishes I had stayed a bit longer at Cardiff. I still had time on my contract, but I went on loan to play games and I got so addicted to playing games that I took the opportunity to do that. But I’ve managed to stay in the game 15 years later, so I wouldn’t change that much.

“At Shrewsbury, we’d just been relegated, but they didn’t offer me a new deal. I was named the club’s Player of the Season, so I thought I could get a decent League One team, but the offers just weren’t there.

“Wycombe came in. I went to the training ground, I spoke to the gaffer and he was great with me. I couldn’t help but thank him. And they have looked after me so well since. They have come and offered me contracts before mine is close to coming to an end, which is kind of unheard of in the lower divisions. They have really looked after me, so I have never wanted to move or get away.

“The Championship was somewhere I always really wanted to get back to and test myself. When you get to that level, it’s not necessarily as far away as you thought you were the whole time. It’s just about being given an opportunity or a promotion or a manager to like you.

“I loved it and I think suited me personally and my game more. I just hope I can get another opportunity after the season we had there, to show people that we deserve to be there.

“It’s no coincidence how well we’ve started this season because we didn’t have a hangover from getting relegated. People weren’t moping around the training ground. Everyone was buzzing. In the off-season there were loads of players in every day. You could just tell that everyone was desperate to get back.

“You can just tell, can’t you, when a club is on the up and when things are happening. That’s where we are at the minute. Within the confines of the club and the training ground, we’re confident we can have a really successful season.

“There doesn’t need to be a panic even if a club gets relegated and it shows what happens if you do stick with the manager and back him.

“I know there have been offers for the gaffer to go elsewhere, but for him as well it might not always be the right thing to move to a so-called bigger club and to have the pressure of instant success. Managers will always tell you they want longevity, they want to create a project and a team. It’s not always easy to do that. You have to have time. Look at how far Wycombe have come in the last six or seven years from almost going out of the EFL to being in the Championship

“As a player, too, you want to be part of a long-term project. I want to be part of what’s going on at Wycombe. I see the young players coming in and what the new owners want to do and I want to be a part of it. Whether I’m in it till the end, probably not because I’m older than you think I am, but I want to be there, see it grow. These are exciting times for that.”

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