Wembley holds a special place in the heart of Wycombe Wanderers’ Aberdonian defender Jack Grimmer.
Saturday will see Grimmer look to make it a hat-trick of play-off final wins at the famous national stadium, having won with the Chairboys in 2020 and Coventry City in 2018.
Grimmer and Wycombe will contest the League One show-piece against Sunderland, the heavily-fancied and heavily-supported north-east side desperate to end years of underachievement.
But the former Aberdeen defender seems to have a golden touch when it comes to playing under the Wembley arch. Two years ago, in front of empty stands, Wycombe beat Oxford to reach the Championship for the first time.
Prior to that, Grimmer scored a spectacular third for the Sky Blues in their 3-1 win over Exeter to win the League Two play-off final.
All being well, Grimmer will be celebrating another special occasion on Saturday night.
‘This year will be totally different’
“I drive past Wembley every day on my way to training,” he said. “Twice it’s stood me in good stead to be there in May, which has been brilliant.
“This is the third time in five years and while it looks like I’ll be on the bench this time around, hopefully I’ll play a part in some way.
“Some players don’t get to play at Wembley once and I’ll have been there three times. It’s something I’m not taking for granted.
“I’ve had both extremes; Coventry had 40-odd thousand fans there and two years later it was none. This year they’re hoping to sell 75,000 and it just shows you what difference the fans make.
“Wembley was special last time because we won but the atmosphere was non-existent. This year will be totally different.”
The way the 2020-21 season came to an end forged a unity among the Wycombe squad to put things right on their own terms.
They were relegated from the Championship by a point a year ago, however they would have survived if Derby County’s points deduction had been applied at the time, rather than the start of this season.
Derby have since been relegated to the third tier after being docked 21 points for entering administration and Wycombe could well take their place this weekend.
— Jack Grimmer (@JackGrimmer) May 9, 2022
“We finished last season so strongly,” said Grimmer. “We ended up missing out by the one point and while you don’t wish ill on any club, I was sitting last summer hoping Derby got deducted points. They should have – you don’t get deducted 21 points the following season if you’ve not done something wrong.
“To do it this way, not relying on a points-deduction and doing it on the pitch, is the sweeter thing. It would prove it wasn’t a fluke after we did it the first time. It would show we’re a club on the up and growing in stature.”
Successes to celebrate
The Black Cats clash will also be the final game in the career of Adebayo Akinfenwa, the larger-than-life striker who never fails to impress Grimmer with his humility.
“For being as big a personality as he is, what gets me is the time he takes to have little conversations round the training ground, one-on-one or with a few people,” he said.
“He never loses the time to ask how you’re doing or how your family is, how you feel about not being in the squad. He wants the club to do well and he’s one of the most selfless people I’ve met.
“Imagine having your last professional football game at Wembley – it’s almost written in the stars. We were speaking about it the other day as I still can’t get my head around it; he feels very fortunate that the team and everyone around has put the club in this position, for him to have this moment.
“If he can push us over the line and leave with that winners’ medal round his neck, it’ll be all the sweeter.”
Grimmer has watched on recently as close friends had their own successes to celebrate. The Cove Rangers side which won the League One title contains several of his former Aberdeen youth team-mates, such as Scott Ross, Fraser Fyvie, Jamie Masson and Mitch Megginson.
“I was buzzing for them. It’s class to see,” he said. “My godfather, John Morgan, has worked there for many years and for people like that, who’ve spent all their time watching Cove, is special.
“It’s good for the city, that bit of positivity with the way things are unfortunately going for Aberdeen at the minute. Because I know a chunk of the players, it’s really good to see.
“It reminds me a little bit of Wycombe. You get players who have been written off elsewhere but gel together and get success. It’s a good feeling and you build relationships for the rest of your life.”
Heading home past the Wembley arch again as a winner would be another feeling to savour.
“The cliché is that it’s just another game but it’s blatantly not,” said Grimmer. “I would shy away from saying it’s just another game because the buzz is completely different. You’ve got to embrace the fact it’s a big day and all your friends and family are going to be there.
“There’s a few friends and family flying down. I’ve got one of my best mates and his partner coming down, along with my family. Most of my friends were saying ‘it’s on the TV, we’ll see you there’ – it’s typical Aberdonians, it saves them a flight and a hotel.
“The bookies have backed Sunderland and that’s good for us, as it piles the pressure on them. It’s a good place for us to be in. We’re used to being underdogs and that’s the way we like it.
“We’ve got a terrific squad and a great bunch of players; I feel very fortunate to be part of a promotion run. Hopefully everything ends up with another medal on Saturday.”