Football finds a part of its soul with the return of supporters on the pitches

Fans in attendance at Adams Park were spaced out to adhere to social distancing rules

When Wycombe Wanderers fans turned their attention from a standing ovation to their own team to sending referee Darren Bond down the tunnel with what you could politely call a flea in his ear, it was was confirmation that part of football’s lost soul had returned.

Bond, who leads a relatively calm life officiating in empty stadiums, couldn’t resist a smile as even he seemed to recognize that at least some of the match’s normal serve had been resumed.

If football has at times seemed a cold, soulless occupation in recent months, it is because there is an irreplaceable part of that soul missing. He returned as 1,000 Wycombe supporters to Adams Park.

And despite the defeat and disappointment of the home fans here, it was the night that some of the most important connections finally started to be reestablished between clubs and their fans.

As haze rolled off the Chiltern Hills on an extremely cold night in Buckinghamshire, the new standard needed in the midst of a global pandemic has been replaced with good old-fashioned football in the rough, fueled by the kind of crowd noise and verbal ventilation that confirmed for months. yelling on TV is no substitute for the real thing.

This was a carefully managed test event by Wycombe, the success of having 1,000 fans in attendance which hopefully means double that number can watch the Championship game here against Coventry City on December 12. It was the night that this anti-odds club can rightly be proud of.

There was fun seeing vehicles meandering through the parking lots, as well as the sight of supporters marching through the industrial area to the stadium, 285 days after seeing the Chairboys beat Tranmere 3-1 en route to a debut season in the championship.

Wycombe’s historic day, the play-off victory over Oxford United at Wembley in July, took place behind closed doors, so there was a special atmosphere around this compact stadium with almost 10,000 seats.

Players received a standing ovation as fans hailed a return to something like normalcy in football

It was an evening to celebrate the fans’ return to football after a long absence but also for Wycombe supporters to cheer on their heroes and watch them in the Championship for the first time, a remarkable achievement for manager Gareth Ainsworth and his team.

They entered the stadium in hourly slices of time, old acquaintances being renewed even among the small numbers lucky enough to receive the email granting them entry.

Ian Monk, a Wycombe supporter since 1964, told BBC Sport: “I have been Wycombe since the amateur days.

“I only found out this morning that I was one of the lucky ones. Someone gave up and I got an email saying I was in it. It’s actually very emotional to be back here and go into the ground.

“It’s a special night, not only because we’re allowed to come back to see the team live, but also because it’s our first game of the championship.

“It’s been a long time. I travel all over the country at home and abroad and the club has organized it very well. They have done a remarkable job in moving this game forward with our supporters here under difficult circumstances. “

Fans de Luton Town à Kenilworth Road
Luton, Carlisle, Charlton, Shrewsbury and Cambridge also welcomed a few fans on Wednesday night.

Ainsworth received a well-deserved standing ovation as he walked around the perimeter of the pitch before kick-off as supporters received their own tribute on the team’s official sheet, listed as the 12th man as Jason McCarthy under the name of “1000 Season Ticket Holders”.

The best-laid plans are never foolproof, however, especially not for the owner of a black Honda who has been asked to get back to his car moments before kick-off, probably just as they are savoring the moment. ‘they had waited months. Those who sympathized, and judging by some ironic cheers, hadn’t done so, hoped it was just a matter of lights on and that the big moment wasn’t missed.

Fans form socially distant queues as they wait to enter Adams Park
Fans have formed socially distant queues while waiting to enter Adams Park

For a manager with a rock star look, it was only fitting that the Ainsworth team came out with a huge roar and deafening sound of The Cult’s “Fire Woman”.

Wycombe’s strict support protocols advised against hugs, high-fives, or handshakes with those outside your bubble and signed “take care to sing, sing or celebrate.”

This was put to the test in seconds as Alex Samuel of Wycombe collapsed to the ground after a heavy aerial challenge – the talkative home support gathered in the Lords stand taking care to inform Referee Bond exactly what they thought of his decision to play.

Bond has even been ordered, at various times and in colorful terms, to visit a local optician – not the kind of advice he will have missed during those months behind closed doors.

And when Nick Powell wrapped up a period of pressure from Stoke to lead the visitors ahead after 72 minutes, he took the opportunity to mark the return of the supporters with a cup-shaped celebration that was not very well received by the fans. disappointed with Wycombe.

In this age-old scene proving that football fans are truly back, referee Bond left the pitch at the final whistle to chants of ‘cheat’ accompanied by a few old-fashioned gestures of disapproval from the support. home.

Ainsworth beamed widely even in defeat, proud of the efforts of his Wycombe team and their fans, saying: “It was fantastic. It was great to see them at home again and the players were fantastic too.

“We won a throw-in from the first minute and they cheered like it was a goal. It was eight months of frustration, desire and need at that time.

The food served at Wycombe
Kiosks selling food were open for those attending the game

“It was an emotional evening because we have been away for so long. There was a promotion in there so it was fantastic to share that night even though we lost. It was an emotional moment for me to walk the field at the start.

“We showed that we can participate in the championship here and even though there are only 1000 fans, they have shown that they are fans of the championship.

“It was a joy to see the supporters back here with us. They were exceptional before, during and after the game and we can’t wait to have more here with us. “

Wycombe may have lost and remain in the league’s relegation spots so these 1,000 passionate fans were disappointed – but in so many other ways they will feel it was so good to be back.

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