Wycombe at Wembley: Why Wanderers' League One play-off final appearance shouldn't come as a surprise

Having spent time with Gareth Ainsworth and Joe Jacobson, Sky Sports News reporter Mark McAdam explains why Wycombe's play-off final berth is so well deserved

Wycombe players celebrate David Wheeler's goal which put them 3-1 up
Image: Could Wycombe earn a place in next season's Sky Bet Championship?

In 20 years of working in football, I've never seen a club quite like this. Special in every single way.

Live EFL League 1 Play-off Final

Believe it or not, but I had the opportunity to train with Wycombe back in December, so I've seen up close just how Gareth Ainsworth operates. I also took the most famous of TV judges along for the ride - Judge Rinder. Amazingly, we were both invited to join in training, all in aid of a series I was filming connected to the Rainbow Laces campaign.

We were let into the set-up to see the inner workings of a Sky Bet League One club. At the time, they were flying high at the top of the league.

Find out what happened when Judge Rinder was welcomed in by Wycombe Wanderers in episode four of ‘I’m Game’
Image: Sky Sports News reporter Mark McAdam and TV personality Judge Rinder trained with Wycombe for a day

But were they worried about disrupting what they had going on and the delicate balance of the squad by allowing me and a TV star to join in for the day?

Not at all.

Openness, togetherness, and team spirit is what this season has been built on. A welcoming, friendly and fun environment is what this club is about. And that's exactly what we found.

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Oxford are gearing up to face Wycombe at an empty Wembley
Image: Wycombe are gearing up to face Oxford United at an empty Wembley Stadium on Monday

It's rare to see such a warm and welcome vibe at a football club - you can normally spot it from the moment you arrive in the car park.

Ainsworth joined the club in November 2009, initially on loan from QPR. But who would have thought that over 10 years later, he could be about to become the most successful manager in their history? That would be some achievement considering the men he's following in the footsteps... Martin O'Neill, Lawrie Sanchez and Paul Lambert, to name just a few.

Ainsworth, who has been in football for 30 years, freely admits: "This is the best team spirit I've ever had within a group, both as a player and manager."

He knows special when he sees it, and this group is just that.

Image: Manager Gareth Ainsworth has created a superb team spirit at the club

The club started with nine players on day one of pre-season. They were favourites for the drop. Despite using the smallest of budgets, Ainsworth built a team that picked up results and for large chunks of the season were positioned top of the league.

This was all being achieved from a tight-knit group of players, all desperate to prove people wrong. In football, team morale is everything.

Every player has a story, every player has been on a journey, and every player knows this is their chance to put their name in the Wycombe history books.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final between Wycombe and Fleetwood

Joe Jacobson, who joined the club in the summer of 2014, knew early on something was bubbling at the club.

"When players started coming through the door in pre-season, you thought we could have a good season. It's all credit to the gaffer, the culture he creates here is amazing, the boys love it," he explains.

"The manager has signed the right characters, it's more important to be a good person and good human than being the best footballer.

"There's a very specific culture at Wycombe, you can come in an hour early and when you arrive, everyone else is already here which makes you feel like you're late. That's what this club is about.

"It's a nice environment to play your football, I've never experienced anything like it. It just works here, we're all getting the best out of each other."

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Wycombe defender Joe Jacobson says Ainsworth has already 'worked miracles' to get to the League One play-off final and is not putting pressure on his players

Wycombe jumped from eighth to third to make the play-offs on a points-per-game scenario which had upset some people.

A badly timed game with Bury the week before lockdown left them with games in-hand.

Some feel they shouldn't have even made the play-offs.

But they absolutely deserved it. Having been let into the inner circle, I know the passion they have for the job and the spirit that has taken them through this season.

During my day of training, even though well into my thirties, I still discreetly hoped I could impress enough to earn my chance of a football contract. If anyone could bring out the very best in me - it was Ainsworth. But, sadly it wasn't to be. Even for a magician like Ainsworth.

Wycombe
Image: McAdam and Rinder alongside Wycombe striker Adebayo Akinfenwa

Jacobson remembers the day fondly.

He recalls: "You did alright, I remember the lads treating you like everyone else, even when it came to tackling. Maybe work on a few things and you never know..."

That day training with the team, I didn't improve my football - let's be honest, that's a lost cause. But what I did learn was the power of man-management, and Ainsworth has got it spot-on at Wycombe. Even if he didn't offer me a contract...

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