Wycombe Wanderers: Andrew Howard's Willy Wonka revolution

By Chris OsborneBBC Sport
Andrew Howard
Andrew Howard, the Wycombe chairman, races in Aston Martins

Andrew Howard is Wycombe Wanderers chairman, a motor racing champion and an ice cream man.

And ever since he set foot in Adams Park, the club have stopped getting licked on a weekly basis.

In May last year, the Chairboys were 90 minutes away from dropping out of the Football League.

Now, they are in the League Two promotion places and chasing an unexpected return to the third tier.

The club, it seems, has direction and leadership, and most of it comes from a man who owns one of the country's largest ice cream companies.

"You go to grown-up dinner parties and they're all there with their proper jobs. Somebody says, 'what do you do?' I get to say, 'I make ice cream'," Howard told BBC Sport.

Footballers get golden ticket

Andrew Howard
Andrew Howard milked cows for a living before producing ice cream

The 51-year-old milked cows for a living, before going into business with his wife 16 years ago, producing ice cream from the cattle on her family's farm.

Now they have two factories, in High Wycombe and Chester, and produce 150 million portions of ice cream a year.

The Wycombe players, like children handed the golden ticket, have taken on the lead role of Charlie to Howard's chocolate factory.

"The football lads have been up and it's classic Willy Wonka - they come and design and make their own ice cream. That camaraderie has great value," he said.

One of the varieties made by the players, called Trench Mud, was inspired by a trip to the Somme last year.external-link

Howard, and manager Gareth Ainsworth, believe in developing their players off the pitch as much as on it, whether it be concocting unusual ice cream flavours or visiting World War I battlegrounds.

"I don't want any of my players ending up in trouble. I'd be devastated if any of my players got in the news for the wrong reasons," said Ainsworth, who led the Chairboys to their dramatic final-day relegation escape last season.

"We want to keep an honest, sensible group that have the edge to win football games."

Champion on the track

Beechdean Motorsport
Beechdean Motorsport was associated with former F1 champion Nigel Mansell for a while

Preston-born Howard does not just bring experience in the frozen confectionery industry to the table.

He started Beechdean Motorsport 12 years ago, and after taking to the wheel himself, he won the 2013 British GT3 championship.

"You talk about your dream job, and racing driving is not far off. It's absolutely awesome," said Ainsworth, with a touch of jealousy.

"I've been on a couple of track days and I've watched him drive, and wow, that's some fantastic skill. But he understands sport and sportsmen."

Ainsworth, 41, a former Wimbledon and QPR winger, is getting his first sustained crack at management with the Buckinghamshire side.

Last season, his first full campaign in charge, was racked with uncertainty over the club's Football League future and financial stability, but they won 3-0 at Torquay on the final day of the season to sort out the first bit.

And in July, a month after joining as a director, Howard, who is a Leeds supporter, stepped up to become chairman and has since voluntarily helped to run the fan-owned club.

"I joked one day that if Leeds ever got in the same league as Wycombe, I would buy a box," he recalled.

"In 2009, 20 minutes after Wycombe were promoted to League One, the chairman at the time called me and asked which box do I want?"

The Ainsworth-Howard combination has worked.

Wycombe have one of the smallest wage bills in the division, but are currently third in the table.

"Financial security is still at the top of the list," said Howard.

"But we don't want to be totally boring and say 'you can't go for promotion'. There's no point being so transfixed on it - so there has to be a compromise."

Living every child's dream

Gareth Ainsworth and Fred Onyedinma
Gareth Ainsworth, pictured with Fred Onyedinma, has told his players to target promotion

The five-year plan is to be a sustainable League One side.

Howard says he wants the supporters' trust to always have ownership of Adams Park, but believes a committed benefactor may be needed to ensure Wycombe's long-term future.

Could he be that man? He is open to it, as long as the fans would have him. But in the short-term there is the possibility of achieving something much more exciting.

"The elephant in the room 12 months ago was relegation. The elephant in the room now is promotion. It's crazy," said Ainsworth.

"What a fantastic story that has been and I have to give credit to my players and my chairman, even though he won't want it."

In the mean time, Howard continues to bathe himself in the thrill of living out his own fairytale - the speed-demon Willy Wonka who gets to run a football team.

"Every part of it is very serious to me. But I wouldn't say I wake up every morning and go to work," he said.

"There is no question I'm living every child's dream."

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