Wycombe into the history and record books
20th and 21st February 1976
(Research, memories and words by Paul Lewis - First published 19th February 2016 to mark the 40th anniversary)
In a special 40 year retro feature, chairboys.co.uk takes a look back on the interesting and historical events in and around High Wycombe on the weekend of Saturday 21st February 1976. On the Friday evening, Wanderers were looking forward to the following afternoon’s Berks and Bucks Semi-Final tie at Chesham United.
Player preparation then for Brian Lee’s part-time squad usually consisted of a Thursday evening training session behind the main stand at Loakes Park, with the players resting on the Friday evening after a day’s work. Meanwhile, High Wycombe's academic institution of the time, ‘Buckinghamshire College of Higher Education’, were putting on their Rag Week. The Friday night entertainment in the main college hall just across the road from Loakes Park was a headline concert by Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages – tucked away, second on the bill that night were the then virtually unknown Sex Pistols.
The following day, Wanderers’ afternoon in Chesham would also go down in the history books as one of the most eventful in the Club’s history. Events that day saw the Club enter the Guinness Book of Records, take a 4-0 lead by the 17th minute and still fail to earn a place in the final. But more of that later.
The Sex Pistols appearance in the chairmaking metropolis on Friday 20th February 1976 was more than nine months away from the release of their first single and the infamous Bill Grundy run-in where they said f**k on tea-time telly.|
Nearly four months before their legendary 4th June 1976 gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, the High Wycombe appearance proved to be was as significant as any in the Sex Pistols history. Not quite the birthplace of punk but at least a port of call on the route of conception.
The Sex Pistols had formed the previous year and played their first gig in November 1975. A week before their appearance in High Wycombe, at what locals called ‘The Tech’, the Pistols had played a support slot to Eddie & The Hot Rods at The Marquee. A review of the gig in the following Thursday’s New Musical Express came with the headline ‘Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are coming’.
The myth goes that the Sex Pistols turned up unannounced for their gig in High Wycombe but enough was known about it before hand for at least of couple of significant people to travel from Manchester in a borrowed car to see what all the fuss was about. They were Pete McNeish and Howard Trafford, students from Bolton who had seen the NME review the day before and had decided to travel to London to track down their next gig. A phone call to the NME led them to Pistols’ Manager Malcolm McClaren’s shop in the Kings Road where they informed of the planned appearance in High Wycombe that very evening.
20 year old McNeish and 23 year old Trafford would also pick up a copy of Time Out that day where the headline for the review of TV programme Rock Follies gave them inspiration for a name for the band they planned to form – ‘FEELING A BUZZ, COCKS’. McNeish would become Pete Shelley and Trafford, Howard Devoto and after seeing the Pistols in High Wycombe they would return to Manchester to form The Buzzcocks and promote the famous gigs at The Lesser Free Trade Hall.
The audience on the night of Friday 20th February 1976 was typical of a Rag Week concert in High Wycombe – a mixture mainly of art, building and engineering students – many interested in the cheap beer available, including the offer of four pints of Guinness for £1. There was no ‘punk scene’ in Wycombe at the time. Aside from the NME article published the previous day, The Sex Pistols were virtually unknown and at the time this was the furthest they had played outside of London.
Assistant Social Secretary at the time, Patrick Graham recalls clearly the evening – partly due to his 6’4” mate Loz spotting trouble on the stage during one of the songs where, just turned 20 year old,lead singer Jonny Rotten had accidentally" smashed Screaming Lord Sutch's gold plated microphone into the stage while swinging it on its lead. “One of Sutch's group was about to start a fight - Loz, acting as security at the side of the stage picked up Rotten by the back of his belt and scruff of neck and threw him into the sparsely filled "auditorium" like a small sack of potatoes...people took the hint that causing trouble meant they would lose...”
Graham operated the disco as assistant to the social secretary, Tony Wilkins, who was the one who booked the Pistols for the knock down price (from full) to a half crate of Carlsberg. The Pistols had rung up the College seeking a gig supporting Screaming Lord Sutch.
Graham recalls: “Johnny Rotten came up and asked if I had any "out of tune guitar music - like the New York Dolls or the Tubes?" - I put on, "White Punks on dope", he approved but didn't smile.”
The Bucks Free Press Midweek carried a review of the gig the following Tuesday written by young reporter Janice McKelvie – completely unknowingly it became what is believed to be the second ever ‘review’ of a Sex Pistols gig (after the NME piece) and never published online before chairboys.co.uk discovered it sitting in the same edition as the report from the B&B tie at Chesham. Written just a day or so after the gig, it probably gives one of the most accurate recollections of the night.
The report starts off by saying: “A four man group by the strange name of Sex Pistols stole the show at The Rag Ball on Friday. It wasn’t they musically good – they just refused to stop playing.” The report goes on to say how after one song lead singer Johnny Rotten shouted at the audience: "That’s it we’re going home.” The Pistols front man was apparently not happy with the PA system and continued in what was reported as: ”in a stream of language denouncing the college, rag committee and the audience.”
The report continues: "The audience replied with a slow handclap and jeering. The group stopped playing. Five minutes later they were back and told the audience: “We hope you enjoy this because we ain’t gonna”. After a couple of more tracks the group were asked to finish and the discotheque started. But the group were not having this and started playing again. During the next song the vocalist decided to lie down on the edge of the college stage and somebody from the audience ran forward and pulled him onto the floor. A small disturbance broke out but the vocalist escaped back to the stage. Eventually Sex Pistols ran out of songs and left the stage. Members of the Rag Committee later alleged that the group had damaged another performer’s equipment.
The BFP report also recalls that before the Sex Pistols and taken stage, a local band called Kites had played too. But the name of the band was either a mistake or a toned down version of their real name, Clits. Their guitarist was apparently a Wanderers fan and according to the BFP report they were ‘a more sombre group’ and ‘seemed to be use to abuse from the audience as well because the vocalist invited the audience to shout at them.’
Another significant figure in the audience that night was local promoter Ron Watts. 33 year old Watts was apparently at the gig to see the college social secretary about a stripper he was booking for them. He popped his head in to the gig to witness The Sex Pistols creating chaos but was interested enough to think they would be worth putting on. Pistols Manager Malcolm McClaren would later seek out him at The 100 Club venue in Oxford Street where Watts promoted Blues Nights. McClaren said he wanted his band to play there. Watts, recalling his memories of the High Wycombe gig a few days before, agreed. The Sex Pistols would appear for the first time at The 100 Club on Tuesday 30th March 1976.
Watts would put on The Pistols a further 10 times at the 100 Club in 1976, including the famous Punk Festival held on 20 and 21 September 1976. Before then, on Thursday 2nd September 1976 , Watts would bring them back to High Wycombe for an appearance at The Nags Head, a venue Watts was now promoting gigs at again having originally started out there in the late 1960’s. The Nags Head, a former Headquarters of the Wanderers in the late 19th century, would go on to play a significant part in the rise of ‘punk rock’ but that would have seemed light years away back in February 1976 and the day before Wanderers' trip to Chesham.
Patrick Graham for sending us his comments included in the above - www.smileofthedecade.co.uk
Martin Ball - long time Wanderers fans for recollection of the price of beer and the real name of the other support act.
Postscript (update July 2016): Just to recap, research for the above rekindled my own interest in the history of the local music scene in High Wycombe, with much of the archive material discovered having never been republished since. The original idea was to produce an extended version of this High Wycombe punk memories article including some of this material. This is still in the pipeline, but may now take the form of an alternative website and/or alternative means of publication in order to keep it seperate from the Wanderers' stuff. Another significant event since the original publication date was the sad passing of legendary promoter Ron Watts in June 2016. An obituary for Ron has been researched and is now available from the link below. Thank you for your patience.
Ron Watts - 1942-2016 - obituary of High Wycombe's legendary music promoter
Also since this article was first published in February 2016, I launched a website celebrating the history of live music in High Wycombe.
www.wycombegigs.co.uk - celebrating live music in High Wycombe
If you have any memories you would like to share from any era of the High Wycombe scene, particularly memorabillia, please get in touch via the website above.
ANARCHY IN THE B&B
Saturday 21st February 1976
The previous season Wanderers and their Manager of the time, Brian Lee, and courted controversy when the team refused to collect the trophy after beating Thatcham Town in the Final of the B&B, also played at Chesham’s ground. Wanderers’ and Lee’s protest was due to the fact the B&B had refused them permission to play in the London Senior Cup.
Also back in 1975 Keith Mead’s industrial description of the muddy pitch at Chesham was too much for the referee and he was sent-off. Mead’s expletive pre-dated the Pistols’ Bill Grundy provoked outburst on national TV in December 1976. To hear f*** on national TV prior to 1976 was a rare occurrence – as was seeing a Wycombe player sent-off. Mead’s early bath at Chesham in March 1975 was the first since Keith Searle had been sent-off five years previous in a B&B meeting with Maidenhead United.
The return to Chesham in February 1976 was eagerly awaited by the Wanderers following. Back then and for several years after, the B&B was a prestigious competition. Games took place on Saturday and took preference over League games.
However, the lead up to the game at Chesham was not a smooth one for Wanderers. Flu and injuries to seven of Wanderers’ 15 man squad had led to the previous Saturday’s visit to Ilford being postponed (with permission from the Isthmian League) on the proceeding Thursday.
The team to face Chesham included the punkish named second choice ‘keeper Peter Spittle, plus defender Dave [Never Mind The] Bullock – both recalled to rare First Team duty, although not unfamiliar with B&B experience having appeared in the earlier round victories over Buckingham, Chalfont St Peter and Rivet Sports. The most significant change was the recall of young midfielder Graham MacKenzie from his loan spell at Hungerford Town. Paul Birdseye and Tony Horseman were named in the starting XI despite carrying injuries. While substitutes Geoff Anthony and regular ‘keeper John Maskell were included too despite not being fully fit.
Back in 1976 Chesham’s ground was not fully enclosed and it was possible to drive through the entrance gates (after paying for the occupants of the vehicle) and then park almost directly behind the near end goal. The tie attracted a gate of around 1,800, including a handful of local ‘scruffs’ out to see the possibility of The Generals causing an upset of the previous season’s FA Cup giantkillers.
A heavily populated bar room and the car parking situation meant you would had to have been quick off the mark to capture the first action of the afternoon. Wanderers took the kick-off and played the ball straight back to defender Keith Mead who thumped the ball forward into the Chesham penalty area at the car-park end of the ground. The ball bounced once towards the left side of the penalty area and in a moment of confusion, home defender Peter Johnson attempted to nod the ball back to ‘keeper Keith Collman. Unfortunately, the Chesham net minder had come off his line and the ball rolled past him and over the line for what would go down in the record books as one of the fastest goals on record and possibly the fastest own goal of all-time.
The absolute disbelief of the goal was still being talked about when Keith Mead doubled Wanderers lead in 3rd minute. Incredibly, Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman made it 3-0 on 6 minutes, while the ginger haired MacKenzie made it 4-0 to Wanderers with just 17 minutes on the clock.
With the crowd stunned into near silence with the surreal events on show, it was to Chesham’s credit that they fought their way back into the tie. Just before the half-hour mark, United top scorer Stuart Atkins saw an effort cleared off the line by Paul Birdseye, while Ken Gregory’s low drive was just beyond the touch of Stan Marshall a few minutes later. However, they were back in the tie on 34 minutes when ex Wanderer Vince Faulkner headed home from Gregory’s free-kick.
With the hosts pushing more players forward in the second-half, it was Marshall who bought the score back to 4-2 when lobbed Spittle on 67 minutes. And Gregory could have made it 4-3 a minute later but his shot was too weak.
With some of the Chesham ‘boys’ getting over excited, play was held up with around 15 minutes left on the clock when a pint mug thrown from behind the goal smashed onto the pitch had to be cleared.
Wanderers seemed to have weathered the storm when they conceded an 88th minute penalty after the referee pointed to the spot after a frantic melee that ended with Gregory lying prostrate on the ground with a broken leg. The referee later confirmed the penalty was given for shirt pulling but at the time it caused mass confusion on and off the pitch.
It was five minutes before Gregory had been treated and stretchered off the pitch and Bobby Harper stepped up to take the spot-kick. Harper ballooned the ball high over the bar past the parked cars and into the neighbouring cricket field. But referee Mr Wrenell ordered the kick to be re-taken after spotting that Spittle had moved off his line before the ball was kicked. The re-take saw Atkins try his luck but despite striking the ball to the Spittle’s right, the Wycombe ‘keeper guessed right and clung on to shot to maintain Wycombe’s two goal lead.
This time there was no further scares for Wycombe and despite 13 minutes of added time, they ran out 4-2 winners and would face Slough Town or Hungerford in the final – or so it seemed at the time.
|Wycombe: P.Spittle, P.Birdseye, K.Mead, D.Bullock, R.Eaton, D.Alexander (sub 74 G.Anthony), G.Mackenzie, H.Kennedy, M.Holifield, A.Horseman, D.Evans – sub not used, J.Maskell
Scorers: Johnson o.g.(5 sec,), Mead (3), Horseman (6), Mackenzie (17)
|Chesham: K.Collman, K.Gregory, D. Le Sage (sub HT I.Hornby), V.Faulkner, P.Johnson (sub 78 P.Sewell), B.Cooper, A.Cameron, K.Beaven, S.Atkins, R.Harper, S.Marshall
Scorers: Faulkner (34), Marshall (67)
|Referee: Mr P.Wrennell (Burnham)
A few days after the tie at Chesham it came to light that teenager Graham MacKenzie had played for Hungerford in an earlier round of the competition and was therefore ‘cup-tied’. Wanderers pleaded ignorant to the fact, we Manager Brian Lee saying he was unaware of the situation and had left out fringe midfielder Bruce Macrae knowing that he had been cup-tied playing for Wantage. Lee said: “Obviously we would not have played Mackenzie if we had known he was ineligible.”
By this stage it was Hungerford who had caused a shock by beating Slough in the other semi and they were looking forward to taking on the Wanderers in the Final set to be played at Slough on Easter Monday 19 April 1976. But with the B&B committee set to discuss the matter it was Wanderers who opted to withdraw from the competition of the own accord. In a letter to the B&B, Club Secretary John Goldsworthy said: “On behalf of my club I tender my apologies to your association for the most unfortunate breach of the rules and in view of the doubts which will now be cast on the integrity of my club. We see no option but to seek your committee’s permission to withdraw from further participation.”
In a further explanation to the press, Goldsworthy added: “We tried to act with dignity and a certain amount of honour. We have made a mistake and as honourable men we seek to withdraw.”
So Wanderers missed out on another B&B Final but they did make the following year's Guinness Book of Records - albeit under the 'Amateur and Minor Leagues' section. Then after a few more years, the editors didn't deem the feat worthy enough of inclusion, as the game 'wasn't senior enough'. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
Ron Watts - 1942-2016 - obituary of High Wycombe's legendary music promoter