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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.
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.
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
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