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The end of the Martin O'Neill Years
Tuesday 13th June 1995
(First published 15th June 2015 by chairboys.co.uk)
On the evening of Tuesday 13th June 1995 the vast majority of Wanderers fans heard the news they had been dreading since the end of the 1994/95 campaign - the confimation that Manager Martin O'Neill had left the Club after just over five years at Adams Park. The then 43 year old opted to join Norwich City, recently relegated from the Premiership and a former playing club of the Irishman.
The impending departure of O'Neill had been bubbling under for much of the latter part of the 1994/95 season. A fall out with Club Chairman Ivor Beeks following a 0-0 defeat away to York City in March 1995, kept under wraps at the time, was also part of the catalyst for O'Neill's decision to leave Wycombe. However, it was Wycombe's failure to grab a third successive promotion that was the ultimate reason. Commenting on the day of his depature, O'Neill said: “I have had chances in the past to take over at other clubs and the reason I have decided to leave now is a matter of timing. I always had the ambition to go right up through the leagues with Wycombe. It would have been a great achievement. But we failed to go up this year and things were starting to slow up. If we had got promotion it might have put a different complexion on things. But this was perhaps a good time for me to leave."
O'Neill had been appointed as Wycombe boss back in February 1990 and so began a period of huge success at the Club. O'Neill's five year stint saw the move to a new ground in Sands, three Wembley Final appearances, promotion to the Football League and a host of happy memories along the way. The profile of the Club had also moved up, with average League attendances shifting from 2,800 during O'Neill's first full season in charge to 5,800 by the time Wanderers had finished in 6th spot in the third tier of English football at the end of the 1994/95 campaign. During that time O'Neill had shunned approaches from Bristol Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City - opting for his ambition to complete his 'silly little dream' at Adams Park.
The events leading up to O'Neill's decision to join Norwich happened relatively quickly. At the end of the season Ivor Beeks went on holiday to Portugal, but on the day he left, Robert Chase, the Norwich City Chairman, rang the Club asking for permission to talk to the manager. O’Neill still had a year to run on his contract but, in Ivor Beeks’ absence, fellow Director Graham Peart made the decision to allow talks to go ahead. O'Neill was also on holiday but eventually contacted Chase and arranged to meet at Heathrow Airport on his return to the UK on Wednesday 7th June 1995. On offer was made by Chase for the vacant job at Carrow Road and finally agreed by O'Neill, with a press conference called for at Carrow Road the following Tuesday. In the intervening days O'Neill met with Peart to tie up the financial details of his departure, while Beeks was unable to return early from his holiday and didn't have a chance to speak with the Manager until after his move to Norwich had been set in stone. However, Beeks did speak to the local press, saying: "The King has gone, long live the King. It was not too much of a surprise. Every time a job came up as manager Martin’s name was linked with it. It was a disappointment initially because we had seen off Leicester and Nottingham Forest but now we had to deal with Norwich and that was too much of a mountain for us to climb."
Commenting on the events in the Wanderers official history book published towards the end of 1996 , Peart said: "It was very difficult because all those wonderful times with Martin ran through my mind, the three Wembley games, two promotions, all those big cup games. We needed this manager to stay but the subconscious message I was getting was that the time had come for Martin to go and do something different. I found it very hard to come to terms with this, but I knew that it was all over. I did try to persuade him to stay, but I knew that he wanted to get away".
O'Neill's decision to leave was also influenced by the financial constraints at the Club, while a recent decision to invest close to £1m on the building of a new stand in apparent preference to investment in the playing side, added to O'Neill's frustrations. Speaking a few days after his move to Norwich, O'Neill said: "What I have learned is that financially, Wycombe cannot cope with the very big teams - clubs on the financial level of Birmingham City - yet as a manager I expected to be able to cope with that. Others expected me to cope with that as well." But O'Neill was not one to forget the chance that Wycombe gave him, adding, "I owe the club everything. The only reason I am in the position I am, is because of my experiences at Wycombe. The Club gave me an opportunity when others were steering well clear of me."
O'Neill wrote for the final time in his capacity as Wanderers Manager in a farewell piece in a Blues News article published via The Leader local newspaper on 29th June 1995. He said: "I have had a wonderful time in charge of a club that have grown to love very dearly. I do not believe it is possible to have the highs of promotions and Wembley triumphs and the lows of having 94 points and still not gaining promotion without an emotional attachment. Football, almost like no other job, forces the manager, players and supporters alike to form a kind of bond or union that, if things are going well, can be difficult to dislodge. And for a number of the supporters here I felt that over the years we have formed an attachment with each other that has been difficult to shake."
He added: "I think the time may be right for both of us to part company in a reasonably amicable way before you totally and utterly get fed up with me. However, if finishing sixth in May 1995 in Division Two of the [Football] League having had less than 100 games of Football League history behind us, if three Wembley triumphs in four years and the leaving of Welling, Farnborough, Slough, Runcorn and Northwich Victoria in our wake has been a massive disappointment to some of you, I’m just pleased I wasn’t around when relegation from the Gola League [Conference] was achieved or defeat at the hands of the Metropolitan Police in the FA Trophy was imminent." An honest O'Neill then quipped: "Sorry folks, it’s just my usual defence mechanism hiding my dreadful insecurity problems."
O'Neill signed off his time with Wanderers with a few thank-you's: "A big thanks to Alan Parry for all his support and backing in troubled times and an honest thanks to the chairman who could not have always found it easy to persuade a doubting board that 'O’Neill would get it right.' " He finished by saying: "But the most important people at any football club are those who play the game and those who pay to watch. Without them nothing can exist. And to one or two of those within the club - and they’ll recognise themselves immediately - the players are not a side show here, they are actually the main attraction. And please don’t worry about me. I can make a complete mess of any job without much help. Thank you very much for putting up with me for five years."
On the Saturday following O'Neill's departure, the Club advertised nationally for a new Manager. Over 60 applications were received, but the only person to be interviewed was Alan Smith. The former Crystal Palace Manager then met with Ivor Beeks, whose recommendation that he become the next manager was unanimously accepted by the other directors.
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