After two long away trips it came as something of a relief to have a relatively local game in High Wycombe and with it a chance to sleep past 6am on a non-work day. We had arranged to meet Graham and Sean at Marylebone Station at 10.30, and Tom and his mate Andy had also joined us. After working out that the various discounts available with Group Saves, Gold Cards and a host of other railcards were all much of a muchness – not least because the first of these now discriminates against those leaving London, who get a lesser deal than those coming into town – we sorted out tickets. Necessity number one sorted, we moved onto the next: breakfast.
I’ve often seen the café opposite Marylebone but I’d never been in there before, however Graham recommended it (with a caveat that there were “unorthodox breakfast options”) and who were we to dispute his claim? The number of people already in the café suggested Graham may be right (as usual) and the only problem was getting enough seats together. Tom decided that we should rearrange the furniture within a fairly tight spot. What ensued looked like a scene from a farce. Shuffle. Move. Shuffle. Oops. Backwards. Shuffle. Dead end. Tom was still determined, the rest of us were getting a little embarrassed. Gino appeared, waving hands. He asked another woman to move and moved two tables together with rather less chaos. And…breathe.
We ordered breakfast. Tom apologised: “I didn’t realise I was making everyone uncomfortable. You’re all SO English with your embarrassment.” At this point Andy looked like the most English of all the embarrassed English people. “And this,” he said, “Is why you never take Tom anywhere.” Tom, meanwhile, was on a roll of national stereotypes, “And the Italians, they love rearranging furniture don’t they?”
John appeared, complete with cup of tea. “Do NOT move that table,” we said in unison. Breakfast arrived. It was as good as Graham had promised and a calm descended.
Despite all the palaver we still had nearly half an hour until our train left and so we headed to the station bar.
The Victoria and Albert
In recent years some station pubs have improved, the Victoria and Albert is not one of them. In fact, I can’t really remember it ever changing much over the years. The beer selection was less than enticing. Greene King IPA, another Greene King offering and London Pride. Everyone plumped for Pride, which was in pretty poor condition. Tommy and Joe turned up and the standard Saturday fat was chewed. Thankfully Joe had not decided to reprise his Fog on the Tyne entertainment of a couple of weeks’ previous.
11.35 London Marylebone to High Wycombe
The three carriage service was busy, as it generally is on a Saturday, going as it does to the outlet village at Bicester. As we searched for seats we wondered why Chiltern Railways never put extra carriages on to deal with the crowds, but that would be all too sensible wouldn’t it? Luckily when we got to the final carriage we found that John had saved a table: result. We pulled out of the city and trundled along to the edge of the genteel Chilterns, where the houses are large and the voters (one suspects) mainly Tory. It always seems an unlikely area for football.
Once upon a time the pub opposite High Wycombe station was called The Flint Cottage (the building is, quite literally, a house covered in pieces of the stone) and it was a pretty grotty affair. A few years ago it changed into The Bootlegger and improved beyond all recognition, with Rebellion beers on draft and hundreds of bottled beers. This season it has improved still further, with about double the number of cask beers and a new set of keg taps behind the bar. We ordered a combination of Tring Pale Four (later described as having “Fairy Liquid in the brew” by Ian) and Mighty Oak Scrambler and, as the sun was out, we wandered into the huge garden.
It was glorious: warm sun, sofas, beer and good company. What more could anyone want for a Saturday lunchtime? Well, there was one thing, or so the staff thought at any rate: what we clearly needed on the hottest day of the year so far, was a wood burning stove (or more accurately a chimenea) lit right next to us. We tried our best to point out it was quite warm and very sunny but our protests went unnoticed. The stove was lit and a cloud of smoke blew towards us. This was not in the glorious category. Graham and Andy pulled the stove away. A few minutes later they pulled it away a bit further. Then a bit more. It was bearable although heaven knows why it had ever been lit in the first place. We spotted another, discarded, chimenea in a bit of waste ground fenced off from the main garden: maybe this had happened before and previous drinkers had moved the offending stove rather further than us.
More Dons’ fans turned up and the conversation flowed from beer to games past to who would play who in the forthcoming AFC Wimbledon Hollywood film. Tom and Andy nipped off to the Chair Museum – when in High Wycombe and all that. We drank Tickety Brew, Rebellion Zebedee and Siren Pompelmocello, a grapefruit IPA which was pretty much made for the weather. Tin Tin turned up and bemoaned his marathon training which meant he couldn’t indulge in the excellent range of beers. He tasted the Pompelmocello, swooned and almost cried that he was unable to have one of his own.
Stove aside the sun, beer and huge space for everyone to socialise in was making this a pretty perfect pre-match spot. Perfect, that was, apart from one thing that had been irking me: a misplaced apostrophe on a blackboard. I’d already tried to rub it off, as every grammar pedant surely would, but it was painted on. My subsequent search for a black marker pen had proved fruitless – until Tin Tin’s arrival. He produced a marker and I set about obliterating the offending apostrophe. Phew.
Tom and Andy turned from their museum trip. It had been a disappointment, a side room to the full museum. Still, they had learned that a chair was “a stool with a back” and seen a “Champion Chair of Britain” from the 19th Century. They consoled themselves with a game of crib instead (won by Andy).
Wycombe Wanderers vs AFC Wimbledon
There was a long queue for the away end as we arrived, which Sean and Graham joined while Ian and I headed off to pick up our pre-ordered tickets. We asked a steward where we should pick them up, “Over there in that building,” he said, pointing at what looked like a modified phone box. Building was certainly an ambitious term for the tiny hut, but the tickets were there and as we picked them up we noticed that an extra entrance had been opened for away supporters with tickets. This hardly seems worth mentioning but such eminently sensible behaviour on the part of a football club is incredibly rare, so credit to WWFC.
We found a space (to stand, of course) and were joined by Alyson and Percy. A few minutes later Tom and Andy arrived, Tom having survived an inquisition about what he had in his pocket. When he explained that it was a crib board, a mutual love of the game was discovered as the steward exclaimed: “Excellent!”We found a space (to stand, of course) and were joined by Alyson and Percy. A few minutes later Tom and Andy arrived, Tom having survived an inquisition about what he had in his pocket. When he explained that it was a crib board, a mutual love of the game was discovered as the steward exclaimed: “Excellent!”
One thing that any supporter in League Two will tell you about Wycombe Wanderers under Gareth Ainsworth is that they are the most cynical team in the division. You’ll likely hear the terms “dive” and “cheat” as well: it’s a reputation that has been well-earned by the club and hated by supporters of every team that plays them. So when the chants of “You’re going to dive in a minute,” started soon after kick off no one was surprised. The first elaborate fall came on seven minutes. The home crowd showed their disapproval of this clear foul (in their minds at least), we heaped scorn upon the acrobatics – and so it would continue.
Ardley had started the game with three up front and in the 12th minute his boldness paid off. Elliott latched onto a Fuller pass in the penalty area and from our view at the opposite end of the ground it looked like the Wycombe ‘keeper tripped him. Before we could finish our cry of “penalty” the ball had broken to Lyle Taylor who duly found the net – cue mayhem in the away end. Once the celebrations had died down we noticed that the ref, assistant refs and fourth official were in deep conversation near the dug outs. We speculated that maybe the ‘keeper would be booked for what seemed to have been a certain foul on Elliott, and secretly all hoped that the goal wasn’t about to be belatedly disallowed for some indiscernible reason. The clock ticked, we grew none the wiser but the players were in place for a kick off, which was promising. Eventually the ref ran back onto the pitch, or rather “a” ref ran back onto the pitch – as this was, in fact, one of the assistant refs who had replaced the original (now injured) man in the middle.
The scoreboard, meanwhile, was still showing nil-nil. “Update your scoreboard, we’re winning one nil,” urged the away end, and after several minutes the score was corrected. There were more chances in the first half: Murphy hit the crossbar, a couple of chances went over it and Taylor forced a great save from home ‘keeper Allsop but as the whistle blew for the break it remained one nil to the Dons.
In the second half things continued in the same vein: Wycombe players fell over and flashed simulated yellow cards at the ref and Robinson hit the crossbar. Then, in the 57th minute Michael Harriman hit at shot from just outside the box that evaded Roos and put the home side level. It was a blow, and an undeserved one, and even worse it brought a drummer to life in the home end. In an ideal word drumming in football grounds would lead to a ten-point deduction and a lifetime ban for the culprit.
It didn’t take too long for the lead to be restored though. Murphy was pulled down in the box and, after a considerable delay due to the inevitable Wycombe protests and gamesmanship, Taylor got his second of the day. 2-1 Dons.
What was remarkable about this game was that it took until the 72nd minute for a yellow card to be shown, and then it was shown to Dannie Bulman. Fouls in the box, simulation, constant arguing with the ref had all gone unpunished (the game ended with a yellow count of 1 to the home side to 4 for the visitors, which was equally ludicrous) – it was as if the officials were existing in a parallel universe.
As the game went on a red kite circled the fields outside – the view of the Chilterns is certainly one of the better backdrops in the League – oblivious (I presume) to the atmosphere next door. Wycombe boss Ainsworth was getting a lot of grief for his, and his team’s antics, and even he was shocked that fans of his former club at turned on him. It would be nice if that shock translated into an improvement in his team’s tactics, but somehow I feel that is unlikely.
The home side had a bit of pressure but they were unable to breach the Dons’ defence again and at the final whistle three well-deserved points were celebrated wildly by the travelling fans – who included former Dons’ Jon Main and Mickey Haswell. It had been a really good performance, with Elliott man of the match, having caused the home team no end of problems all afternoon.
On the way out I was really pleased to bump into Shea, who was at her first game in years, mainly due to the arrival of two children in the meantime. I’d suggested earlier in the week that perhaps her trip could bring good luck and it seems it did. The campaign to get Shea to more games starts here.
Views of the rolling countryside apart Adams Park has little going for it. The one road in and out through a sprawling industrial estate is inevitably blocked for an age after every game, trapping those who have risked parking close to the ground. With the bars and tents on site selling such delights as Greene King IPA we walked down the lane to The Hourglass. It isn’t the worst pub in the world but is by no means the best either. We ordered unmemorable drinks and called a cab to arrive in 30 minutes. Ian noticed a dog hiding under the table – the poor thing was presumably embarrassed at being dressed in a Wycombe shirt.
We left to wait for the cab. And wait we did. Other cabs turned up, we waited. Likely looking vehicles drove past but did not stop, still we waited. Increasingly angry calls were made to the cab company (not least because Alyson needed to get back to Grimsby – missing her train would lead to a hefty additional fare and an overnight stay). We were told the taxi was a minute away, then on its way, then (15 minutes later) 20 seconds away. Half an hour after it was due a cab turned up. Alyson made her train with seconds to spare (and only because it was late) and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Pro tip: do not book Tiger Cabs in High Wycombe.
We walked to the back of the station and round to The Belle Vue. It was one of those pubs that it’s a joy to happen upon: friendly and welcoming, with several beers and ciders on, plus a good number of leaflets announcing an anti-EDL march the following week. We ordered Adnam’s Ghost Ship and West Berkshire’s Skiff and joined Tom and Andy, who had made it rather earlier travelling by bus. They were just finishing another game of crib (Andy won again) and we shared our taxi take before they headed back to town. A band began to set up next to us, prompting us to shift to the snug, and one of the locals told us that two of the musicians claimed to have been Wombles in Mike Batt’s backing band back in the 70’s and we were suitably impressed. The snug doubled up as a gallery for local artists, bringing out our inner critics. The band started to warm up next door: “1…2, 1….2, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2” came the voice over the sound system: “It’s the score!” we chorused.
We reluctantly left for the 9.14 train home, using the handy (and previously unknown to me) back entrance to the station.
Also known as the “one for the road” pub that we visited (maybe) as a tribute to Wycombe’s goalkeeper. We all drank Salopian Darwin’s Origin and mulled over the trip with a few other returning Dons fans: all in all, we concluded, it had been a very fine day out indeed.
Pub of the day: The Belle Vue
Beer of the day (for me, at least): Siren Pompelmocello