Sad news broke yesterday that ex Wycombe Wanderers centre back, Paul McCarthy, passed away of a suspected heart attack, aged just 45.
Born in Cork, McCarthy made 181 appearances for Brighton & Hove Albion before moving to Wycombe Wanderers where he will be remembered forever as a cult hero.
A decent centre back for the level in his own right but his real bragging rights were in “that cup run” of 2000/2001.
“Macca” passed away on the 20th February 2017 which is exactly 16 years since he scored the equaliser against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park to take the FA Cup 5th round replay to the most famous penalty shootout in Wycombe’s history, perhaps the cup’s history and for some even footballing history.
For Wycombe Wanderers, the 5th round of the FA Cup was extraordinary. Paul was instrumental in Wycombe getting this far.
A centre back that was not to be messed with, Paul popped up with an overhead kick in the 2nd round replay away against Millwall and Wycombe were into the 3rd round of the FA Cup – having never previously scored when reaching this round.
McCarthy scored in this game too and took the tie to a replay then scored another in the replay to setup tasty home tie against Wolves. Andy Rammell celebrating in the snow in front of the home end will live long in the memory as Wycombe’s enthusiasm and grit took them into the 5th round to setup a tie against Wimbledon.
I was 10 years old and had started to dream of a cup run. It was all anybody was talking about at school. Lunchtimes would be Wycombe vs Wimbledon then Wycombe vs Manchester United then Wycombe win the FA Cup final against Arsenal in the last minute thanks to any number of lads on the playground.
I remember taking my usual seat in between my Grandad and my Dad before kick off in the 5th round of the FA Cup and my Grandad passed me a traditional pre-match Wether’s Original and told me were going to make the quarter finals here, he had a good feeling. I was just worried about how many goals we would ship and how embarrassing it would be in school on Monday.
To my surprise – and everybody else’s – we forced a replay at Selhurst Park. What a bog that was. If ever there was a pitch not fit for a football match it was here.
A scrappy affair which resulted in not a lot of football being played but as Sam Parkin threw a stepover to fool the Wimbledon right back and Dannie Bulman scuffed his shot out of the mud, who was there to keep the dream alive? The big man himself, Paul McCarthy, has forced a penalty shootout against Wimbledon of Division 1.
No child should ever be a bag of nerves at 10 years old but I couldn’t keep it together. Paul McCarthy calmly score his penalty and then all of sudden, Martin Taylor the goalkeeper has scored as well. What on earth was going on here? I had never seen a goalkeeper take a penalty, we could be about to reach the FA Cup quarter final and it’s way past my bed time.
The final Wimbledon penalty was sent way over the bar and we’d done it. Thank you so much Paul McCarthy for stretching that little bit further and knocking that last goal in.
It was Leicester City of the Premiership next and I was certain that the run was over. No way could my team beat a premier league team – we were battling to stay in the league, let alone beat them.
But at 10 years old, I couldn’t help but dream. Every time I saw my Grandad in run up to the game, we’d talk for hours: what if we did this and imagine if Paul McCarthy scores again.
My imagination was running wild but Grandad knew that this sort of thing would never happen again so he dreamt with me. I don’t think we finished one game of cards in the build up to the quarter finals but it really didn’t matter.
You know the story by now. We’d sold out the away end at Filbert Street and the atmosphere was electric. There was a live stream back to the big screen at Adams Park and the entire town was there. This was a big deal for little Wycombe.
Overlooked by most due to Roy Essandoh’s fairy tale ending header, Macca headed us into the lead at Leicester. Was I seeing things? Was this a dream?
Leicester equalised and it looked like another replay was on the cards until Bulman lobbed the ball into the box in injury time and Jamie Bates rose higher than ever to nod it across the box where none other the teletext kid, the website wonder, Roy Essandoh headed home the winner and there were absolute scenes at Filbert Street and Adams Park.
We lost the in the semi-final to Liverpool but gave a good account of ourselves and Keith Ryan’s goal in front of the Holte End at Villa park will forever be my favourite goal.
I couldn’t contain myself. I don’t think I did any school work or even took off my shin pads until I got on the coach to Villa Park. I remember vividly chattering away to my Grandad and reading the last few match programmes to him when I threw up out of sheer excitement. It’s strange what football can do to you.
We arrived in good time and had a wonder around the biggest stadium I had ever seen. Bear in mind, Wycombe held 10,000 and was never full, this was enormous. As we took our seats, my Grandad said I might need to stand up and he lifted me onto the seat.
Completely baffled as to why, I stood on that seat the entire game and lost my voice in the process. I needed a half time Wether’s as well as the pre-match Wether’s today. Looking back, we were all stood up, of course we were. This was the biggest game in the history of Wycombe Wanderers, you couldn’t sit down!
We lost 2-1 through Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey but were not disgraced. The result was trivial. The cup run, the build-up, the coach trip, the endless chatter with my Grandad, the many outcomes of the playground football led up to the best day of my life.
I miss my Grandad dearly and I miss watching Wycombe with him and my Dad. Row H in the family stand, last three seats from the final walkway on the right will always be ours.
Thank you, Grandad, for letting me dream and thank you, Paul McCarthy, for fulfilling it.