Pride and disbelief in Wycombe at giant-killing

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Football teams traditionally mark a momentous victory by parading through their home town but at Wycombe Wanderers yesterday the closest thing to a triumphalist celebration was the car boot sale in the club car park.

Football teams traditionally mark a momentous victory by parading through their home town but at Wycombe Wanderers yesterday the closest thing to a triumphalist celebration was the car boot sale in the club car park.

The FA Cup quarter-final triumph of the Buckinghamshire minnows over Leicester of the Premiership was being met with a strange mixture of huge pride and slightly stunned disbelief in the sedate surroundings of High Wycombe.

Given that, eight years ago, the "Chair Boys'' were a non-league side and even yesterday were still two divisions and 54 places below their opponents, there was a recognition that FA Cup semi-finals are something of a rarity for a team from the London commuter belt.

Alan Pryke, 42, leaving his local garden centre, said: "I'm a lifelong Wanderers fan and I still can't quite take it in.

"You always hope and dream but for Wycombe to be in the last four is truly amazing. I mean, this is the sort of place where people probably play more golf than they do football,'' he said.

But even from the Middle England sitting rooms of High Wycombe, there has been a growing clamour of support as the local team progressed through the FA Cup by overturning theoretically superior opposition, including First Division sides Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wimbledon in the previous two rounds.

As the March rain persuaded even the hardiest car-boot salesmen to pack up at the club's ground on an industrial estate, the most bullish attitude of all was to be found at the high temple of Wanderers' worship - the official supporters' club bar.

A hard core of fans had gathered at the watering hole, called the Centre Spot, in the club's main stand by 4pm yesterday to hear that Liverpool would be the next opponents for the local side managed by Lawrie Sanchez, who famously won the FA Cup against the Merseysiders in 1988 while playing for Wimbledon.

Such is the infectious fervour with which the Second Division side are followed that the bar manager, Steve Kemsley, 28, a lifelong Liverpool supporter, was insisting by 4.10pm that he had been converted to the true faith.

The Wycombe-born bar worker said: "I have followed Liverpool since I was a kid but when you live and work here you can't but support Wycombe. It's part of the life of the town - there is a real sense that we can constantly overcome the odds.''

Unfortunately that advice was not available to the man who was yesterday revealed as having lost £30,000 that he bet on Leicester (4-1 odds-on favourites) beating Wycombe (offered at 10-1).

William Hill said the anonymous gambler, following a recent trend for large bets on seemingly certain outcomes, had previous won £600 by placing £90,000 on England beating Italy in the Six Nations rugby tournament and had thought that Leicester were a similar "dead cert''.

Back at the Centre Spot, there was an iron belief that even a clash with the mighty Liverpool at one of the world's most famous football grounds, likely to be Old Trafford or Villa Park, would not prove too much for the 11 men from the Home Counties.

Marion Lunnon, 63, who has followed the Wanderers for 45 years, said: "The secret is simple. They never, ever give up.''

John Marshall, 51, a builder who played six games for Wycombe Wanderers in the 1960s, said: "What you've got to understand is that every single one of our players is a hero for believing it's possible to progress round after round.

"Liverpool was the game we wanted for the semi final. The bigger the club, the further they have to fall.''

Indeed, there was one hero in particular who was the talk of the town yesterday - Roy Essandoh, the Belfast-born Ghanaian who was recruited via Teletext after an injury crisis and went on to score Saturday's winning goal in the 2-1 victory.

The 25-year-old player, whose only previous "high-level'' appearances in British football were for Scottish sides Motherwell and East Fife, was signed on loan from a club in Finland the week before the FA Cup quarter-final and had been staying in a local hotel.

Plans were afoot last night to honour Essandoh by immortalising his name in the town - albeit in the same way that a car-boot sale marks an FA Cup semi-final in this part of the world.

Dave Bustin, 52, owner of the Chiltern Hotel where Essandoh was lodged, said: "He stayed in room number eight. I'm going to put a plaque above the bed to remind everyone for ever more.''

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