By Terry Phillips
Former Cardiff City players Gareth Ainsworth and Joe Jacobson are at Wembley Stadium this evening, where both will be dreaming of promotion to the SkyBet Championship.
Wycombe Wanderers manager Ainsworth, nicknamed ‘Wildthing’ since his days with Wimbledon, will lead the ‘Chairboys’ out before the League One play-off final against Oxford United, while experienced Cardiff-born Jacobson looks certain to be in the starting line-up.
Ainsworth, the longest serving manager in the top four divisions of English football having been appointed in 2012, had ambitions to become a rock star when he was growing up – and almost went in that direction.
“Rock star or footballer – what a choice,” he says. “I’m not sure I would have made it as a rock star and I chose football.”
Ainsworth’s mother was a professional singer, performing with big bands during the 1960s and belting out covers of Brenda Lee, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Lulu and more.
The 47-year-old – who was at Cardiff for a short spell as a player 17 years ago – has been involved with a number of groups part-time alongside his playing career and the first was APA with Wimbledon team-mates Trond Andersen and Chris Perry.
Later, he sang and played guitar with Dog Chewed The Handle, Road To Eden and Cold Blooded Hearts.
‘Wildthing’ also became Michael Hutchence of INXS for 11 songs during a tribute band concert.
His nickname came courtesy of Wimbledon defender Kenny Cunningham after Ainsworth started playing golf.
“Kenny started calling me Wildthing because of my swing,” he says. “My first shot hit a golf buggy and the second nearly hit somebody. It was quite apt at times – and the nickname stuck.
“I’m a bit tamer these days, but a little of that Wildthing spirit is inside me somewhere.”
Ainsworth, who had a nine-match loan spell at Cardiff City during the Bluebirds’ 2003 promotion season, led Wycombe to promotion from League Two during 2016-17 is now aiming to make the Chairboys a Championship club for the first time in their history.
Jacobson, 33, was a trainee at Cardiff before being given to Bristol Rovers on a free transfer in 2007.
Supporters cannot attend the final at Wembley and Ainsworth says: “I feel really sorry for the fans. They’ve been with us through thick and thin.
“It is going to be tough on them. But we all know that they’re going to be at home watching it.
“My message to them is that I will be making the boys fully aware that you are with us at Wembley, that your support is enough to be with us at Wembley.
“We know you’ll be watching on the TV and listening on the radios.
“That is enough for my boys to know that their fans are there for them.”
The M40 derby between Wycombe and Oxford United is at Wembley Stadium on Monday evening (7.30pm).
And Ainsworth has secret weapons – his lucky red cowboy boots and leather jacket!
He wore them for the semi-final ties against Fleetwood and Wanderers went through 6-3 on aggregate.
“The boots and jacket are on an unbeaten streak and they could make the difference,” he says.