Beds, Herts & Bucks

Wycombe Wanderers promotion: 'You can feel it in the town'

Wycombe fans
Image caption Aston Bowring (right) and his friend Luke Huggett were celebrating in High Wycombe on Tuesday

Wycombe Wanderers have reached the second tier of English football for the first time in their 133-year history after a dramatic play-off final victory. BBC News went to the Buckinghamshire town the morning after the night before to see what promotion means to the area.

High Wycombe has only had a Football League club since 1993 and the team, nicknamed the Chairboys, narrowly avoided dropping out again on a dramatic final day of the season six years ago.

But at a near-empty Wembley Stadium on Monday night, Joe Jacobson's penalty gave them a 2-1 victory over Oxford United in the League One play-off final.

"The final whistle went and literally brought me to tears, the amount of stuff the club has been through," said 16-year-old Aston Bowring, who was still celebrating in the Buckinghamshire town on Tuesday.

"You can kind of feel it in the town, we've already had people coming up and asking us how the game went.

"We've put Wycombe on the map, we weren't on the map before."

The promotion has certainly put Wycombe on the map, typified by Premier League winners Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp recording a message for striker Adebayo Akinfenwa following his memorable post-match interview.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Adebayo Akinfenwa gave a memorable post-match interview

The outbreak of coronavirus suspended the end of the League One season, but Wycombe - who were eighth at the time - made the play-offs when the final standings were decided on average points-per-game.

James Crawley, who watched the game in his garden, said "people needed something" to hold on to during the pandemic.

"I spent the whole time just looking forward to the play-offs, as soon as it was announced everyone was like 'we can get through this - it's only four weeks to the play-offs', then sure enough it's counting down," he said.

Wycombe - who were only promoted to the division in 2018 - began the season as one of the candidates for relegation back to League Two, but instead they will be facing teams with Premier League pedigree, players and stadiums to match next year.

Mr Crawley, 21, said: "Even getting to League One and staying up was huge, and now we're in the Championship which is crazy.

"We have a 10,000-seater stadium, there's silly money in the Championship and we'll be there with a fairly modest budget."

Image caption James Crawley watched the final in his garden

Businesses in High Wycombe, like everywhere else in the UK, are coming to terms with how best to move forward as the coronavirus lockdown continues to ease.

Melanie Williams, chief executive of High Wycombe Business Improvement District, said that footfall in the town had been "quiet" and they had expected the centre to be busier.

She said she hoped promotion would "encourage people to come back to town and shop, trade locally again and celebrate together".

"We've been in a period of international lockdown and international crisis as we know and we saw in that time a huge amount of community solidarity," she said.

"We've been thinking a lot about how we can recover. I think this [promotion] just comes at a moment in time when we really want something to celebrate but also build on that community that we have seen be so effective."

Say High to Wycombe

Image caption Wycombe's football team will play in England's second tier next season
  • Found in the Chilterns, the town was inhabited by the Romans and is named in the Domesday book
  • Wycombe was the heartbeat of the UK's chair-making industry in the 19th Century and is where their team's nickname, The Chairboys, stems from
  • The town's furniture-making skills were used for aircraft components during World War Two
  • The area's predominant industry is now the service sector
  • While child poverty in Buckinghamshire is lower than the national average, a 2016 study found Wycombe had the highest rate in the county

Sources: Visit Buckinghamshire, Bucks County Museum, Health and Wellbeing Bucks

Image caption Steve Langton runs a market stall in High Wycombe

Moving up into a division stocked full of well-supported sides, many of which have been in the Premier League, will almost certainly mean an increase in away support on matchdays when fans are allowed to return to games.

Steve Langton, 75, runs a market stall selling martial arts-related items each Saturday and hopes the town could profit from the rise in away support.

"We hope it will get busier," he said, adding: "Let's hope they'll spend."

Fans also think the town centre should be getting a new feature in homage to the Chairboys' talismanic manager, who also moonlights as the lead singer with rock band The Cold Blooded Hearts.

"I think Gareth Ainsworth's going to have a statue in the town centre sometime soon," Mr Crawley said.

Image caption This banner was put outside Buckinghamshire Council's office in High Wycombe

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