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No more ‘little Wycombe Wanderers’, says Johnson

Former Wycombe Wanderers defender reflects on his time at the club and has praised the job Gareth Ainsworth is doing.

28 January 2021

Roger Johnson made more than 500 career appearances as a player. An FA Cup runner-up with Cardiff in 2008, Johnson was also part of the famous Birmingham City side that overcame Arsenal to win the League Cup in 2011. He went on to play for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic, but his impressive career began at Wycombe Wanderers in 1998, where a 15-year-old Johnson joined the Chairboys’ youth ranks. He would go on to make over 150 appearances for the Buckinghamshire side.

“I loved my time there,” he said, speaking exclusively to the EFL. 

“Fair play to them, they’re a Championship club now, but back when I was playing for them it wasn’t League One or League Two, it was the old First Division, that’s showing my age!”

Johnson spent time at Portsmouth and AFC Bournemouth as a youngster before joining Wycombe as a 15-year-old, where he developed through the club’s youth system. 

At 17 he made his debut, which at the time, saw him become the youngest-ever player to make a Football League appearance for the club. The following season he was also a part of the squad that beat Premier League side Leicester City to reach the FA Cup Quarter-Finals. 

“It was very different,” he reflected. “I was a young lad playing against experienced men. The average age of the team was about 32, nowadays it’s about 21, the kids have taken over! 

“I was a young lad at Wycombe and it made me grow up quickly, I learned to respect my elders and I just loved every minute of it. And it worked out well, I made my debut at 17 years old away at Cambridge and I’ve just got so many fond memories there. 

“It was the building block for me so I’ll always be appreciative to Wycombe as a club for giving me my chance, I wouldn’t change any of it.”

Now Under-23 manager at National League club, Bromley, Johnson keeps an eye on the Chairboys' results and is full of praise for both the club and the job being done by manager Gareth Ainsworth. 

“It’s a brilliant story. They’ve been up and down over the years and been between League’s One and Two, but they put a couple of seasons together which were amazing and to win in the Play-Offs the way they did was brilliant.” 

A 2-1 win over Oxford United in the 2019/20 League One Play-Off Final secured Championship football for Wycombe for the first time in their history, an occasion that will live long in the memory of everyone associated with the club.  

“I’m so pleased that they are where they are. People often say ‘little Wycombe Wanderers’, but they’ve shown that they’re not anymore. 

“They may be bottom of the Championship but I believe the Championship is one of the hardest league’s in the world to both stay in and to get out of, every game is such a tough one. 

“The start they had was tough, but of late they’ve shown some real character and got a few wins on the board, so I’m hoping it’ll go to the wire. I’m really pleased they’ve made it into the Championship, I think they deserved that chance as a club and Gareth Ainsworth deserves it as a manager, they’ve stuck with him and he’s done great.”

Ainsworth is one of the EFL’s longest-serving managers, having been in charge of the club since 2012. Of course before taking the managerial reigns in the dugout, he also made more than 100 appearance for the Chairboys as a player, but his two promotions in three years - taking Wycombe to the second tier of English football for the first time in their history - is what he’ll be forever remembered for. 

“He’ll go down in folklore, he deserves it,” Johnson continued. 

“He's done so well there and built something special, and that’s what happens when you stick with a manger. I enjoy it when Clubs stick with someone and they go up together and they go down together, it’s paid off for Wycombe.

"Just getting out of League One with some of the teams in there at the moment was an achievement. And in the last six to eight games in the Championship they’ve really been holding their own, they’ve had some great games. 

“I commentated on their win over Birmingham City and that was a great result for them. I’m really hoping they can string a few results together, climb out of the bottom three and if they do that, what a fantastic season it would be for them.”

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