We’d finally dropped out of the league while ‘non-league’ Wycombe continued to shuttle between League’s 1 and 2. A temporary state, we thought, and it didn’t take long to get a chance to prove it.
In November 2006 things were looking up; we’d were owned by a fan and managed by a legend. We were non-league, but we were unbeaten and brushing everyone aside. With our new set-up it was clear that non-league was a temporary state only. We were on the rampage, unbeaten from the start of the season with 15 wins and 4 draws. Having brushed past Dagenham and Redbridge in the qualifying round we drew Wycombe in the 1st round proper. Appearing in the FA Cup was important; it ensured that we maintained an unbroken place in the history of proper competitions.
There was something fitting about drawing Wycombe. Little Wycombe, the non-league upstarts. It was almost as if they had become a reference point. Courtney Pitt, a little shit of a winger who Graham Rix brought into the club was always the one player who we could mark our decline against. He was awful for us, but as we got worse every time he played us the more like Lionel Messi he became. Wycombe was the club that served that same purpose.
So when we were drawn against Wycombe, this was to be proof that we were, in fact, a league club, just one in the wrong division. Our form was excellent, so we went into it with a real sense of confidence; selling out the away end. We lost Andy Burgess and Rob Duffy before the game, both were interviewed on the radio with the Oxford throng audible in the background. It had a sense homecoming party; with Burgess and Duffy going on about how great it was to be back in the biggish time.
That was the first flicker of complacency that had crept into the season. We ignored that Wycombe, probably, fancied the win themselves. Above all, they were the higher ranked team. We would have to be on the money to get a result away from home. We didn’t play badly, but conceded. Gavin Johnson, one of the patched up old crocks Jim Smith was relying on to trudge through a winter of Conference sludge and get us back into the League scored from a free-kick. Momentarily, we believed the original hype. Seconds later Wycombe scored again and we were out. We drifted off into a wilderness of playing St Albans, Tonbridge Angels and the like. They would be playing in a League Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea.
Early season form was sobering. We smashed Bristol Rovers 6-1 in the League Cup, but we’d lost our first home game and drawn the other 0-0. We headed for Adams Park and left with another 0-0 away draw. While we were organised enough to maintain clean sheets, we weren’t savvy enough to score at the other end. Wycombe had just been relegated and were fancied for a straight return to League 1. An away draw and a blank sheet against a fancied team was considered a big positive.
By the time of the return the play-offs were becoming beyond us; we’d had a good crack at the season and done OK. Wycombe, as predicted, maintained their steady progress and as it’s often the case in League 2, that was enough to see them sitting in the automatic play-off positions.
By the end of that season, our principle role seemed to be to try to make a nuisance of ourselves at the top of the division. We raced to a two-goal lead which was just about deserved, in a microcosm of the whole season, they chugged their way back into it and in front of a mass of jubilant Wycombe fans equalised through John Paul Pittman. An entertaining 2-2 draw.
Finally, to this season. We headed for Adams Park; Wycombe were suddenly the ones struggling, our form was fluctuating wildly, but we hit them in a purple patch. James Constable, Tom Craddock scored from sweet strikes and Johnny Mullins nipped in at the near post for a third. The 3-1 win was the most comprehensive since the promotion win at Adams Park in 1996. It looked like we were going to challenge the play-offs while they looked in desperate trouble heading for relegation.
And so to today, the latest instalment of the derby that isn’t a derby. Much of that is down to Oxford fans’ denial of our position. I suspect had the Glory Years not happened, then the Wycombe fixture would have been considered more important than it currently is. In reality, we’ve been a lower league team for a very long time now and Wycombe Wanderers increasingly represents a key marker for our progress.