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Gareth Ainsworth’s Roy of The Rovers football dream continued this month, when Wycombe Wanderers made their bow in the Championship, after 133 years of non-league in the lower league echelons.

Wycombe gaffer Ainsworth hosted Rotherham at Adams Park on the opening fixture of the 2020-21 season, behind closed doors amid COVID-19 legislation, after Wycombe reached the Championship in the play-off final at Wembley in July.

Ironically, Ainsworth returns to his home town Blackburn Rovers on September 19 – the club that threw him on football’s scrapheap as a teenager, almost three decades ago.

“It left me in tears,” said Ainsworth, dumped by Rovers aged 18, after being part of the clubs youth team.

Gareth (centre) playing for PNE against Wycombe at Wembley in 1994.
Gareth playing for PNE against Wycombe at Wembley in 1994.

After getting the boot at Blackburn, Ainsworth’s Roy Of The Rovers return story kicked-off at Northwich Victoria in the nineties – that lead to a move to my home town club Preston North End, what was the first of three spells at Deepdale.

Cambridge, a return to Northwich on loan, a return to Preston, Lincoln City, Port Vale and a £2m move to Wimbledon encompassed his journey.

In 2002 another return to Deepdale on loan surfaced, along with a loan spell at Walsall, prior to moving to Cardiff in 2003.

QPR was Ainsworth’s next stop-off, making 141 appearances for the club during 2003-10, returning to Wycombe on loan in the 2009-10 season, joining Wanderers on a permanent deal. A brief spell at Woodley United followed.

His first taste as manager came at QPR, when caretaker in 2008-09; taking charge at Wycombe in 2012 and leading the club to promotion from League 2 in 2017-18 and into the Championship last season at Wembley.

Gareth: Play-off winners Wycombe reach Championship.
Gareth: Play-off winners Wycombe reach Championship.

Ainsworth returned to Wembley, having suffered defeat  – ironically against Wycombe under Martin O’Neill – in the third division play-off final when at Preston in 1994.

“We are hoping to pull off a few surprises in the Championship – it’s new territory,” said Ainsworth.

“It’s a hell of a challenge,” said Ainsworth, who graduated from the University of Liverpool with a Diploma in Professional Studies in Football Management in December.

Ainsworth, who says COVID-19 lockdown has lead to a stronger bond at the club, has ambitions to reach the Premier League: “I have ambitions to manage in the Premier League,” said Ainsworth.

Roy of The Rovers is a British comic strip about the life and times of a fictional footballer and later manager.

It be a No.1 hit for Ainsworth, 47, who has rock ‘n’ roll through his blood alongside football, tutored by his mum, a former professional singer in the sixties.

He formed band APA, while at Wimbledon as a player. Bands, Dog Chewed The Handle and Road To Eden followed. In November 2019, Ainsworth became lead singer of Cold Blooded Hearts.

With a Roy of The Rovers story in the locker and his dad being a former bookie, don’t rule out the odds: “It would be a dream come true – to do it with Wycombe,” said Ainsworth.

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