Sanchez spies glint of gold through Hayes

Wycombe woke up the Cup last season. Steve Tongue studies their new role
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The Independent Football

They were the Second Division club who put much-needed magic back into the FA Cup, almost derailing Liverpool's Treble after a Teletext striker sent them through to the semi-final. They reaped a seven-figure reward, spent it gratefully and now accept that next weekend they are all set up to be the first fall-guys of another Cup campaign.

Not that romance, let alone riches, seemed on the agenda last November, when Wycombe Wanderers were drawn to play Harrow Borough in the first round proper of the Football Association Challenge Cup. An attendance of 2,681 appeared to reflect the general malaise from which the world's greatest domestic competition was suffering, and the only item of interest emanating from Adams Park, Buckinghamshire merely confirmed the lack of gravitas: Barry Silkman, a journeyman midfielder turned agent, persuaded the Harrow chairman to let him on as a substitute at a record age of 48.

If that oddity attracted no more than a sentence or two in the national press, interest and coverage increased with successive rounds and wins over Millwall, Grimsby and Wolves, until the February night when Lawrie Sanchez, Wycombe's manager, feels the Cup came alive again.

After a notably dull fifth-round Saturday, enlivened only by Wycombe's spirited – and controversial – recovery from a 2-0 deficit to draw at home to Wimbledon, the club for whom his header famously won the Cup in 1988, Sanchez took his team to Selhurst for an epic replay. They won it 9-8 on penalties, thanks to their goalkeeper Martin Taylor scoring one, and arrived back in the dressing-room to learn that Tranmere had stolen their thunder by recovering from 3-0 down to beat Glenn Hoddle's Southampton 4-3. "I remember reading the papers the following day and and our reports were hidden away inside with Tranmere's, because Man United had drawn at home to someone in the Champions' League," Sanchez recalled. "I think editors realised they'd missed the story and the day after that, those Cup ties were on the back page. United damaged the competition by not taking part, but that night really ignited the FA Cup again in the eyes of an awful lot of people. And we managed to keep it going."

They did so in the sixth-round tie at Leicester, a match memorable for all manner of things: Roy Essandoh's dramatic winner, the only known instance of a television commentator (Alan Parry, of Sky, who is a Wycombe director) cavorting on the pitch, and – though nobody imagined it at the time – the beginning of the end for Peter Taylor.

"In the week before the game, we'd simply run out of players," Sanchez said. "So I asked our press officer to put a notice on the club website looking for a centre-forward who wasn't Cup-tied and could play at this level. That got on to Teletext, where Roy Essandoh's agent saw it and got in touch." An afternoon of genuine Cup magic finished with Sanchez in the tunnel after being sent off for protesting about a penalty not given to his team, watching on a television monitor as a last-minute goal by Teletext Man earned a semi-final place.

At Villa Park the Wander-ers, in their quartered Oxbridge shirts redolent of a more playful, amateur era, performed heroically before going down and out 2-1 to Liverpool. Sixth at the start of the Cup run, they were 20th soon after it.

The bank manager was not complaining. Not only was he almost certainly among the 20,000 Wycombe supporters at the semi-final, but £1m came into the club as a direct result of the Cup run. More than £250,000 was invested in the training ground, £100,000 went towards a new stand, suites in the 10-year-old Adams Park were refurbished and debts were reduced. There was even money for Sanchez to spend: wingers Darren Currie from Barnet and Stuart Roberts from Swansea have strengthened the squad, which would be even closer to the Second Division leaders if a couple of draws had been turned into wins.

So a legacy has been left of a wonderful few months, and the benefits are still coming in. This Friday, it all starts again, with Sky Sports paying £100,000 to cover the tie at Hayes in which the boot is on the other foot: Wycombe are suddenly the giants waiting for a fall. "We've got to be realistic, we're not going to get to the semi-final again," Sanchez said. "Unless you actually win the Cup, success in it is transient. John Duncan took Chesterfield to the semi-final and two years later he got the bullet. But we had a windfall, and as a result the squad is stronger, gates are up, and the rewards are still ongoing. Someone will knock us out this year but we're looking for a solid run first."

Wycombe Wanderers are looking increasingly like a club built on solid found-ations. Lawrie Sanchez is looking like a manager of the future.