One word was on Wycombe Wanderers boss Gareth Ainsworth’s lips this weekend: “Wow.”
The Chairboys boss captured his emotions in a single syllable utterance after taking charge of his 500th game at the helm of the Buckinghamshire team, which ended in victory for fifth-placed Wycombe.
It was a far cry from where it all started for the 48-year-old. Ainsworth was first introduced to the Wanderers faithful as the new Wycombe manager in September 2012, overseeing a 3-0 defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge with the Club sitting fourth from bottom in the fourth-tier and without a win in seven, having suffered relegation the season prior.
Now, his side are eyeing an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship and, regardless, the Blackburn-born boss will go down as a Chairboys history-maker.
“It’s a fantastic memento for me,” he said, in the wake of Wanderers’ 3-1 win away at Crewe Alexandra which saw Ainsworth’s side move back inside the top six in the Sky Bet League One.
“I had two players in the team today that played in that first game back at Dagenham 500 games ago – Josh Scowen and Anthony Stewart. I’m glad to say we weren’t beaten 3-0 like that first game with a bit of mayhem ensuing. It’s really special.”
The small matter of 500 games, nine seasons and two promotions later, it all could have panned out so differently for Ainsworth.
The former midfielder, who enjoyed a spell at Adams Park on loan from Queens Park Rangers during his playing days where he eventually hung up his boots for good, questioned whether or not he had what it takes to sit in the dugout.
“Looking back, when I first went to QPR, I had no ambitions of being a manager and no ambitions of being a coach,” Ainsworth admitted. “I was still the guy that got the ball and said, ‘right, I’ll beat my left-back and get a cross in for you’.
“People would come in at half-time and talk about the game but as a player, being totally honest, I didn’t focus on what the opposition did or how we could break them down; it was just a case of, ‘I’m a winger and I know what I’m good at’.
“Around that time, I was out the team, and I was older. I thought to myself, ‘you’ve got to start and look at something else here’. Although I still had no ambition to be a manager, I started looking at the game a bit differently. People mature at different rates – mine was quite a late one for coaching and understanding the game.”
It was his former Hoops boss that put his faith in Ainsworth, but it was putting in his hours in the classroom rather than the training ground that paid dividends for the now-Wycombe head coach.
“When Luigi De Canio came in, he couldn’t speak English – he was Italian – but I speak Spanish because my partner is Venezuelan,” he explained. “I learnt Spanish and I could understand what Di Canio was saying to the boys, so I’d translate it sometimes when his translator wasn’t there.
“At the end of the season, he left, but he said to me, ‘the boys respect you and you know what you’re talking about and they’ll do what you ask, so take your coaching badges’. Really, he was probably the one who got me into it.”
Although he might not have been prepared for what was to come, taking up the QPR job in a caretaker role twice before being appointed as the new Chairboys boss, a drink with Sir Alex Ferguson after the Hoops fell to defeat against Manchester United during his temporary reign calmed the nerves somewhat.
And those were the same nerves he experienced this weekend when the Buckinghamshire outfit travelled to Crewe to get their promotion hopes back on track.
He added: “I was nervous because I got one or two messages before the game that I didn’t know about that were played in the team meeting from some people in my career. Sometimes, that balloon bursts but we inflated it a bit more in the end.
“Thank you to the fans – they gave me a brilliant reception and they’ve been there right from day one – and thank you to the boys – they gave me a nice occasion. I won’t get one of them until another 500, so let’s see how we go!”