The Chairboys is one of football’s more unusual nicknames but one entirely appropriate for a club from High Wycombe.
Wycombe Wanderers bear the chained swan crest of their home town, their rustic little ground, Adams Park, cut into a rectangle of woodland on the western outskirts of High Wycombe.
Still completely surrounded by green belt, just north of the Thames at Marlow, this Buckinghamshire market town was best known for its furniture manufacture. Apprentice chair makers were among those who founded the original club, in the 1880s, the name agreed upon in a pub in Station Road.
The club’s varsity colours of dark and light blue may have been a link to the rowing tradition at Marlow – no-one really knows. Football had long taken root in the affluent riverside community four miles from High Wycombe. Founded at the Compleat Angler in 1870, Marlow FC hold the distinction of being the only club to register for FA Cup participation every single season since the tournament was introduced in 1871.
Marlow also competed in the first final of the Berks & Bucks Challenge Cup in 1879, losing to Reading. Now the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup, its record winners are Wycombe, whose recent history has taken an entirely different path from that of their former local rivals.
First Southern League, then Spartan League, then Isthmian League, The Chairboys became a top amateur club, causing Middlesbrough a shock in the FA Cup of 1974-75.
Success came under Martin O’Neill, in his first major managerial posting in the early 1990s, leading Wycombe into the Football League. The later manager of Celtic and Ireland also played in the last game at Loakes Park, the club’s home from 1895, its famous sloping pitch foxing that Boro side in 1975. The farewell match there, in 1990, featuring O’Neill’s former Northern Ireland team-mate George Best, gave the venerable ground a suitable send-off.
Its grand gates were duly moved to new-build, named after the club’s former captain Frank Adams, who had purchased Loakes Park from Lord Carrington and donated it to the club. He also provided the trophy for the FA Vase, the non-league competition that superceded the FA Amateur Cup in 1974.
Backdropped by overflowing greenery, Adams Park opened in 1990 and was a Football League ground within three years. Within 12 years, the Wycombe’s 125th anniversary, a supporters’ trust had taken control of club, Adams Park and training ground, ensuring that the future of The Chairboys was in dedicated hands. At the same time, Wycombe Wanderers won the Football League Family Excellence Award.
In 2015, 7,750 packed into Adams Park to see Wanderers overcome Plymouth in a League Two play-off semi-final. The final against Southend, in front of 38,000 at Wembley, went to penalties. And all this only one season after Wycombe needed a last-ditch victory to stay in the League on goal difference.
Each time manager Gareth Ainsworth, a cult figure at Adams Park since 2009, kept a steady hand on the tiller. Named Manager of the Week in January 2017, the amateur rock guitarist now looks to lead the club out of the League Two mire.
High Wycombe bus and train stations are either side of the town centre, the rail terminus a longer walk away, 7-10min.
A frequent train to High Wycombe (25-30min) from London Marylebone is £13. Hourly direct from Birmingham Moor Street (1hr 15min) it can be as cheap as £5.50 in advance. From Manchester, you need to go via London or Leamington Spa.
Several bus companies serve High Wycombe, including Carousel, First Group and Arriva. Adding a £2.70 PlusBus levy to your train ticket allows you to use local buses provided by each of three companies all day.
The ground is way out in the western outskirts of town – you’ll need to get a bus or taxi there.
Based on the main road in the stadium side of town, Yellow Cars (01494 44 44 02) offers affordable local fares and Heathrow transfers from £29.
In truth, local accommodation choices are poor at best, with the honourable exception of the George & Dragon, the other side of the National Trust land from Adams Park. It probably wouldn’t be more than a fiver in a cab, and you get to stay in a restored coaching inn close to West Wycombe Park.
The nearest lodging to the ground is the dated but affordable Clifton Lodge on the main West Wycombe Road, with its own restaurant and garden. Further along, nearer town, the Buckingham Hotel is a notch nicer and in the same price bracket.
Rooms at The Bell aren’t as attractive as the pub’s wood-panelled surroundings or its Thai food – there’s a reason why the accommodation isn’t promoted on its website.
A mix of chains and traditional pubs dot the town centre.
Starting with the High Street itself, The Hobgoblin offers real ales and live music, although little by way of TV football. A few buildings down, there are TV screens at The Falcon, one of two Wetherspoons in town – the other is nearby, The William Robert Loosley, named after a prominent local furniture-maker.
On Desborough Road, the Rose & Crown has always been a popular destination for TV sport, with ales and Sunday roasts further attractions.
Almost forced to close in 2015, The Antelope on Church Street is a historic landmark opened in 1795 whose stylish exterior hides a rough and ready interior – and clientele. It’s recently been granted a late licence…
A nicer place, though more for dining than drinking, is The Sausage Tree, also known for its ales by the bottle such as Brewdog 5am Saint and Ilkley The Mayan.
Sister venue The Bootlegger is more like it, the first pub you come to as you walk down from the train station. Here, the 300-plus beers are not the only draw – there’s TV sport, live music, a side terrace and back garden, and recent penchant for South-African air-dried meat biltong.
For a drink by the bus station, then a handy choice is the Phoenix Bar. Open from 4pm weekdays, noon at weekends, this mainly spiky live venue also provides TV sport and a fire for a warming pint before bands take centre-stage. Open until 3am.