Gareth Ainsworth: Wycombe Wanderers boss on longevity and his Christmas single

By James LawBBC Sport
Gareth Ainsworth
Gareth Ainsworth balances life as a manager with being the lead singer in a band

His team are top of League One, he's just become the longest-serving manager in the English Football League and his band are about to release a Christmas single.

It's safe to say it's going to be a busy festive period for Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth.

Exactly 10 years on from when he first arrived at Adams Park as a player, BBC Sport sat down with the man who has the Buckinghamshire club "dreaming for the first time", to talk about his music and why he has fended off suitors to stay at Adams Park.

Top of the charts at Christmas?

Away from pitchside, Ainsworth is lead singer in The Cold Blooded Hearts. His band are releasing a cover of The Wanderer on 13 December, very much in keeping with the manager's Wycombe allegiance.

While his father was a non-league footballer, Ainsworth's mother was a professional singer - giving him two passions which he finds difficult to choose between.

"It would be a tough call between Lionel Messi or Mick Jagger for me. I think I'd have to choose the latter's life, that's the rock star in me," the 46-year-old said.

"Just one copy would be fantastic, just to say I've done that as well - not many football managers can say that, but I don't do it to be this tacky thing, it's a serious thing.

"But as I've always said I'd rather be at the top in football than top of the charts and that sticks - this is what I get paid for and this is what I love, music is a close second."

The single has come about through Pete Couhig, nephew of new majority shareholder Rob Couhig. The pair bonded over their mutual love of rock and roll and have even attended gigs together.

Couhig says there was an "instantaneous music connection" with Ainsworth, which has been "one of the central keys" to their relationship at the club.

"His voice is actually really, really good - when I first showed up I saw a lot of videos of his band and I was just amazed," he said.

"It definitely gives us something to talk about outside of football, to be able to bond over something other than football discussions."

Gareth Ainsworth: Wycombe manager sings 'The Wanderer' with his band

A frantic six months

Back on the pitch, and the past six months have been the most exhilarating in Ainsworth's seven-year tenure with Wycombe.

Battling for League One survival, serious financial trouble, investment from an American lawyer, interest from Sunderland and Millwall and an unexpected promotion push is only half the story.

"Having looked at the finances and the back story of this place, if it wasn't for Rob [Couhig] coming in I think we'd be in real serious trouble right now," Ainsworth said.

"We'd have half the squad we've got, be down the bottom of the table and I don't know if the wages would've been paid this year.

"It's the inflation of football that's to blame, it's just the way that the game is going and you need these people investing in the club."

Gareth Ainsworth (left) shares a joke with assistant Richard Dobson
Ainsworth says he "runs on emotion", whereas his "unsung" assistant Richard Dobson is "quite introverted"

Wycombe captain Matt Bloomfield has been at the club for 16 years and knew something was up this summer when there were just nine players on the first day of pre-season.

Asked if he was concerned Ainsworth may leave as a result, the midfielder said: "I was more than slightly concerned, I was extremely worried.

"I was thinking 'Christ what's going on' - at that point the gaffer was perfectly in his rights to say he'd taken club as far as he could."

But he did not, and he had not. Couhig invested £2.2m to settle Wanderers' existing debts and made an additional £1m available.

That enabled Ainsworth to keep his squad together and strengthen, though he says he was never looking to leave.

"Looking around at what you've got is important, rather than at what you might have, because there's always that uncertainty of moving on, it not going well and you being out of the game," he added.

"What I've got is pretty special here."

While Couhig spends most of his time across the Atlantic, nephew Pete has moved to England to oversee the running of Wycombe as chief financial officer.

A consortium led by former Arsenal and Netherlands forward Dennis Bergkamp had looked favourite to take over at Adams Park before the Couhigs took control.

"We thought we had lost out to the Bergkamp group but when the time came for them to put up or shut up - apparently they didn't, so we kind of got a second opportunity," Pete Couhig said.

"One of the things Rob has said quite a few times is on the football side we're operating on a League One level and on the business side it's more like League Two, maybe even a little bit lower."

'It probably would've been end of club'

It was September 2012 when Ainsworth took the reins at Wycombe - initially on a caretaker player-manager basis after Gary Waddock's sacking, before getting the job permanently.

The ex-Wimbledon and QPR player says he had a "couple bits of luck" early on, culminating in a final-day escape in 2013-14 which saw the Chairboys win at Torquay to avoid relegation out of the Football League.

"That day we were dead and buried. I still look back with my assistant Richard Dobson and think 'how did we do that?," Ainsworth said.

"Staring that in the face - Wycombe Wanderers out of the Football League - it probably would've been the end of the club.

"They'd only been in the league 25 years and I could've been responsible for taking them out of the league. That was not nice."

Wycombe celebrate avoiding relegation in 2013-14
Ainsworth (right) celebrates League Two survival in 2013-14 with his players, including Bloomfield (left)

Ainsworth still sees it as his "best ever learning day in football" and it led to wholesale changes to staff and squad which he says made him "a different person".

"We didn't have a sports scientist or a fitness coach, we were all over the place and that's only five years ago," he said.

"I found out the power of the mind, the power of how you can convince players that it's going to happen and I think that started me on my journey of psychology in football and how important that is."

'The lads are dreaming'

Wycombe have reached a play-off final, had FA Cup ties at Tottenham and Aston Villa and enjoyed promotion from the fourth tier under the stewardship of Ainsworth.

But when asked for his standout moments at the helm, it is the development of people and players, not individual results.

"You can look at the big moments but we've had some real personal success stories here as well," he said.

"Curtis Thompson has had it tough in the early part of his life, growing up in Nottingham, so being able to play a part in seeing this boy flourish. given a chance and taking it with both hands - that's special.

"The more I'm in this game and this life, for me it's about people. Yes, we're judged on results but I'll always put people at the start of everything."

Ainsworth (right) celebrates promotion with Adebayo Akinfenwa
Adebayo Akinfenwa become the first player to score 50 times under Ainsworth with his goal in Sunday's win at Tranmere

But how far can this spirit take Wycombe? As they head towards the festive period top of the tree, dare they dream of finishing above Ipswich and Sunderland and reaching the Championship?

"We're not promising anything but the lads are dreaming," Ainsworth said.

"Before we've never been able to dream and at the moment we're dreaming, and it's good to dream sometimes."

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