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By Federico Manasse (@FedericoManasse)
Once more, I have been helplessly lured in by the charme of England’s lower leagues. Last week I (consentingly) made my way to the Ricoh Arena (Coventry) for the Checkatrade Trophy: perhaps a step-up from Non-League football, perhaps not.
“The Checkatrade Trophy: one of those competitions we really, really don’t need”, pointed out Dan at the end of the game, as we talked about the infinite amount of cups and leagues and random tournaments that this country has to offer. Coming from Italy, where the majority of teams limit their efforts to league matches only, competitions of this kind always amuse me. And while I fully agree with Dan, it turned out to be an eventful and surprisingly enjoyable evening. Follow me as I try to figure out exactly how I ended up at Coventry City FC vs Wycombe Wanderers.
Ultimately, I admit that I would’ve never known of the match’s existence, were I not friends with an actual Wycombe fan. But since I am, and since Scott had been going on for days about how great the Wanderers had been at White Hart Lane, the Checkatrade semifinal started to sound more and more appealing. Add this to the sheer lack of alternatives on a standard Tuesday night and the end result is inevitable: nine fellas on the bus heading towards the away-end of the Ricoh Arena.
On the bus, the general pessimism was already palpable: Dan placed a bet on a 2-1 final result for Coventry, with Sheffield Wednesday legend Marcus Tudgay as first goal-scorer. Bear this in mind, I promise it teaches a valid life-lesson.
Pessimism was soon cast away as we emerged into the Ricoh’s away end. There was a good number of fans and a buzzing atmosphere. The Ricoh Arena can hold up to approximately 35,000 supporters and I’d say it was probably half full – much more than I’d expected. And although Wycombe fans are not diehard Ultras, they really aren’t, we sang for the Wanderers throughout the whole game.
Above, Coventry fans as seen from the away end.
As ever, lower-league English football was incapable of disappointing me, despite trying it’s best to provide a dreadful spectacle. In a match rich of long throw-ins, hopeful lobs into the box and illegal tackles, I really found myself at home. At half-time, however, Wycombe were two-nil down and the excitement was beginning to slump (Also, needless to say, Marcus Tudgay was not the first goal-scorer – unlucky for Dan, I guess). We couldn’t even mock the Coventry fans anymore, as we’d been doing for the first ten minutes before conceding, on the notes of “Going down, going down, going down…” (Coventry occupy the last position of League One).
At half-time, however, the Messiah was sent onto the pitch to save the sinking Wycombe ship. Lumbering on came the strongest player in football, the one we’d all been waiting for: FIFA legend Adebayo Akinfenwa. Having no idea what to expect of this man, whom I’d never had the chance to observe in a real football match, I was positively surprised. After Akinfenwa’s entrance on the pitch, Wycombe’s football began to pivot entirely around him. Admittedly, it was no Tiki-taka prior to his entrance, but Akinfenwa’s presence gave some meaning to the above-mentioned lobs and long throw-ins. With no exaggeration, I don’t recall Akinfenwa losing a single aerial challenge throughout the whole game. Any long-ball that would come his away would just be effortlessly plucked out of the air and efficiently distributed, enabling Wycombe to begin a real siege of the Coventry 18 yard box.
Above, Adebayo “Beast” Akinfenwa warms up.
Thus, when Wycombe were awarded an otherwise innocent looking free-kick, my intuition told me that Bayo was going to make it count. I whipped out my cell-phone, started to record and well, here you go.
— Fede Manasse (@FedericoManasse) 8 febbraio 2017
After this epic moment (there really is no other suitable adjective), the Wycombe end switched back on, backing the lads in hope of an unexpected upset. Though the siege continued until the very end, always by means of the top man up front, the Sky Blues preserved their one-goal lead, gaining access to the final of the tournament, at Wembley. It was a bittersweet ending to the game.
The final whistle was met by a quadruple reaction: the Coventry fans invaded the pitch en masse. Most Wycombe fans, including Scott, sighed and waddled back to their respective buses. Obviously, Dan cursed, for being the luckiest unlucky punter in the world. As always, he’d inexplicably got something right (2-1 final result), but had been let down by his romanticism and over-ambition (Come on Dan, Marcus Tudgay is about 50 years old). I smiled and thanked the Gods of Football, for making me end up at a Checkatrade Trophy game, for Adebayo Akinfenwa and for the beauty of this game.
Above, Coventry fans celebrating the win with a pitch invasion.