Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Dr Livingstone, I Presume?

Saturday, 28th August 2010.
nPower League Two
OUFC 0 Accrington Stanley 0

Ian Rush said, if I didn't win the Milk Cup, I'd only be good enough to play Accrington Stanley. Or something like that, anyway.

So, you wait five decades to play a side, passing them in and out of the league both ways in the process in a bizarre, coincidental fashion. Then when you do meet, you nearly die of boredom.

So was the remarkable saga of Oxford & Accrington, the ghosts of 1962 for them and 2006 for Oxford, put to rest on Saturday by this first ever meeting between the two sides.

Far from the world collapsing in on itself, we instead were treated to a snooze draw of biblical-proportions of shiteness. Oxford, in fairness will probably consider themselves the luckier of the two teams to have come away with a point - Accrington looked a decent side who passed the ball around very well at times, something we couldn't match over the 90 mins.

The scary thing about Accrington looking half-decent was that this is substantially the same team that finished a mediocre 15th last year in League Two.

Having first been impressed by Bury's footballing side and then assured ourselves a draw at Wycombe was a good one against title contenders, there comes a time when we might have to admit that this League may be a bigger step up than we might like to have thought it was...

In the Conference, you can comfortably look to 10-15 games a season that Oxford would expect to win without breaking too much of a sweat. Teams that are basically shit - cloggers with no ability, no tactics and no brains. I don't think you can say the same in League Two. The sides all seem to be passing it around nicely, and at a pace that we are not used to.

This should not be as much of a worry as it seems though, considering we have for the most matched all we've played. For me, Saturday was the exception as I thought Accrington looked better than us. OK, they weren't exactly on fire and our back line did their job (Wright especially, who was a rock).

Yet I was astounded to hear a couple of callers on Radio Oxford after the game say Accrington came to 'park the bus' and 'stop us from playing'. They were watching a different game to me then, as I thought Accrington over-ran us in midfield, were first to every 2nd ball and gave Oxford no time on the ball to settle. They also swept the ball across the park quite beautifully at times, making Oxford look quite ordinary.

We are allowed a shit performance now and then, and hey - we didn't lose.

The longer we go without that first league win though the more nervy our performances may become, so we have to get back to playing decent stuff on the grass and learn to cope with the change of gear.

Most important of all, the players need to put in a shift and adjust to the fact that week-in, week-out, we'll be playing FOOTBALLING teams this season - not a bunch of part-time, hoof-ball bandits. And frankly, I thank the lord for that.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Upton No Good





Tuesday, 24th August 2010
Carling Cup, 2nd Round
West Ham Utd 1 OUFC 0

I know that for many of the 3,800 or so that were there last night, a game against a Premiership side will probably be the highlight of their season. Not for me - I was truthfully more excited about Accrington on Saturday.

I've always treated these away cup ties at 'big clubs' as something of a light relief from the season proper rather than something to get terribly worked up about. A game like this is the equivalent of the porter scene in Macbeth; a slapstick bit of frivolity to lighten up the otherwise important and serious business of the campaign.

As such, I'm not particularly gutted about Scott Parker's undeserved 93rd minute winner last night. Probably more gutted than I would be had we not played so well and deserved at least another 30 mins at them, but that's football.

For me this was as close as I'm likely to get to a home game. Living in Central London, my train home from work in deepest, darkest Kent allowing me to stop off en-route at the new Stratford International station amidst the Olympic building site. A short bus-hop from there and I alighted at the wonderful Green Street - not as i expected it to be, full of American-accented faux-hooligans but actually a particularly vibrant corner of Pakistani culture in London.

Although I had been hoping to sample some of the wares of Duncan's Pie, Eels & Mash shop, this had closed by the time I got there so instead it was to Himalaya's canteen-style Restaurant & Takeaway for a plate of curry. Yum. They will win no prizes for appearance at this place, but who cares when the food tastes this good or authentic.

So, as I gazed from my window seat inside at the cooks selling samosas and pakoras to the local populace outside, I reflected that this was not the start to a typical football away day.

A man in a very old West Ham shirt came in and greeted the Restaurant owner, who asked him "who are they playing today?"

The 'appy 'ammer replied "It's a cup game against Oxford, who are a very lowly side - as low as you can get! So we should win tonight."

I was too busy wolfing down my curry to bother interjecting that you can certainly get lower than League Two - something I could articulate at length about if he had wished me to recount our last four years. I was also pleased at his arrogance and only hoped the 1st XI Avram Grant picked were equally dismissive of Oxford. It could be their comeuppance.

Wiping down my spice-soaked face, I decanted myself from this wonderful little place and walked amongst the locals and their sari shops & spice markets for a few hundred feet before the crowd turned into a football one as I passed Upton Park tube with a sea of yellow emerging from within.

One thing I always love about 'big games' is the feeling of being part of something as you walk down the cordoned-off roads in the vicinity of the ground with the throngs all heading in the same direction. Streets lined with burger vans, programme vendors and scarf & badge fly-pitchers. Haven't we missed the opportunity to experience that since we dropped out of the league?

I've been to The Boleyn Ground before, but I'm always amazed at how gaudy those Legoland castle turrets look in front of their main stand. Why not go the whole hog and get some mock-Tudor beams and stone cladding alongside it? Jesus.


So, the match itself then,* and how can you fault either the team or the fans on the night? Official away crowd not yet in, but the steward near us said we had close to 4,000 on the night and would be by far the biggest away following there this season (mainly due to them only giving 2,900 away in the League of course!).

Tremendous support Oxford.

We battled our hearts out on the pitch too of course. Beano looked knackered in that 2nd half, having run around like an enraged bluebottle on his own upfront all night. I was surprised, rose-tinted glasses accepted, to see that West Ham apparently had 65% of possession on the night - I thought we held the ball quite well and seemed to have a good stretch in charge in the 2nd half. It's always nice to hear some ol├ęs when you are playing against a Premiership side!

There was much consternation around me that those heading back to The Shire would likely miss their last train as it was heading into extra time. No such worries for me, but on 89 mins I did draft a text to MrsOx to say I'd be home later than expected. What a foolish thing to do, it was bound to enrage the Football God's wrath and teach me a lesson that nothing is ever predictable in football, as Parker (the only player for West Ham that perhaps emerged with any credit on the night) slotted home with 10 seconds to go.

Having experienced the nightmare collapse at Kenilworth Road in February though, this didn't particularly sting for very long.

Still early in the season, but we've already proved we can play football, proved we can mix it with teams at higher levels and proved we can score goals for fun when we are in gear.

Now it's time to pick up some points.

Saturday is a big one. I can't wait.


*You will notice that my 'match reports' are becoming less about the game but more the matchday experience around the football itself. I'd suggest you read Chris Williams reports first so you actually know what's happened in the game. This blog should expand your horizons a bit beyond that though. Maybe.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Wycombe In Peace





nPower League Two
Saturday, 21st August 2010
Wycombe Wanderers 0 OUFC 0
Att 6,983

What an odd little place High Wycombe is. Going on name and location alone, you expect it to be a sort of St Albans kind of place. A bit of a well-to-do, pretty looking commuter belt town. The sort of place Phil Collins or Paul Daniels would live. Where you would most likely spend the odd afternoon enjoying a glass of Sauvignon by a riverside gastro-pub, eating over-priced sausages and devilled kidneys.

Instead, what High Wycombe actually is would best be described as St Albans having being raped viciously by Stevenage. The vestiges of the old market town in the centre is merely the presence of an old town hall in the immediate vicinity of a giant, grey steel structured Sainsbury's car park and numerous confusing and many exited roundabouts encroaching needlessly on what little is left of a pedestrianised centre.

Even the railway station seems ashamed to be associated with the town, and appears to be edging out of the town by running up a hill away from the centre. Having spent an afternoon in the town, I can hardly blame it.

I arrived with a couple of London-based chums early for this one, as it was meant to be an informal stag do of sorts. Probably a large mistake, in hindsight. After a brief pint in town in a lovely beer garden doubling up as a car park, with scenic views of the aforementioned Sainsbury's car park, we decided to admit defeat in pretending we were above our base instincts and go and look at some bare-naked ladies in The White Horse.

Thankfully for the fate of our misguided souls, it was rammed full of naturist-lovers so we instead ended up having a few quieter ones in the pub right next door. I can't remember what it was called, but an apt name might have been 'The Overflow Arms' perhaps.

I've always thought it was an odd little ground, Adams Park. Positioned at the dead-end of a long residential road that turns into a mini-industrial estate, the ground itself looks like a leisure centre from the outside and is framed on three sides by tree-lined hillsides.

Yet inside, it's more like a morgue. Wycombe must have some of the quietest fans in the Football League and considering this game, for them at least is meant to have a 'derby' feel to it, some of the most apathetic fans too.

I know us Oxford fans often decry the fact that we are rivals, but this is still a very local game - it is a derby. It can be a derby without necessarily being a rivalry. As such, and with the promise of 2,300 away supporters turning up, it's a pretty poor effort on Wycombe's part to not even get close to filling their ground.

On the pitch, very much a game of two-halves - They overran us in the middle of the park in the 1st half and I was wondering if we'd be able to hang on for another 45mins without being ripped apart. 2nd half though, we were all over them and can probably be thinking ourselves the more unlucky not to have won the game with the chances we had. Finishing again, coming back to haunt us.

Wycombe will surely be up there at the end of the season though, and a point at their place in the context is a good point. that first League win must come soon though for psychological reasons if nothing else.

Looks all set then for Accrington next week - given the historical baggage between the two teams, it would be quite apt.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Bury-ed Alive



nPower League 2
Saturday, 14th August 2010
OUFC 1 Bury 2
Att. 7,552

What a disappointment in the end that was then. I thought that after the romance of Wembley that all these 'special occassions' were meant to go our way.

Our return to the League Cup certainly did, so why couldn't our first home game back in the football league? All that excitement and adrenaline since Tuesday evening, all building up to 3pm on Saturday and yet ending 2 hours later with a damp squib of anti-climax.

The day for me started with a trip to the Fulham Road to pick up a suit, driving past Stamford Bridge at around 10am where preparations were already underway for their first game of the season that afternoon. The burger vans were out in force and the whiff of plastic gave away the presence of Chelsea fans in the vicinity, already stalking out another season of success watching 11 nasty, overpaid arseholes sneer their way arrogantly to the title.

None of that bollocks for me - After picking up my tweed I was straight on the A40 and off to the shire to watch the boys in (mostly blue &)Yellow return to the Football League.

The obligatory Branos spicy chicken burger again preceded my march from Blackbird Leys down to Grenoble Road and full of hope and excitement, I went to the club shop with the intention of spending money on crap I didn't need.

Sadly, the queues were too long so I resisted the urge to pick up one of those new mostly blue novelty home shirts this time. So pleasing though to see those queues - there is hardly more exciting stuff in stock than there has been for the past near-decade down there, but having time and again in recent seasons been the only person in there, it's great to see fans flocking back and as excited as me.

So, then into the ground and a warm handshake and smile for all of my fellow ST-holders nearby. I only saw them on Tuesday night, but it still felt like the 'real' start to the season. Ooh I was excited.

They'd even giganticised the programme! I could now see every freckle and every follicle on Chris Wilder's badly-shaved face. something I never thought I would get the chance to do, so that was good.

My excitement even extended to purchasing a 'match badge' from a geezer who is doing a badge for every home game this season. The mad sod. Still, my collecting-OCD kicked in and it looks like I may have to get them all now. Damn you, badge man.

The result, obviously, was a bit of a let down after all the expectation and excitement. Yet the performance was not. We played well, we created chances - it just wasn't going to be our day. Bury were also an organised side who took advantage perhaps of our naivety at the back - not sure we'd have been opened up so quickly and easily as that in the Conference.

But we'll learn. I'm still confident - Bury are a decent side at this level and if we tighten up at the back we'll win games at this level with our potency & options upfront.

So, next up? Wycombe. See you in the White Horse...

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Jellied Heels

League Cup 2nd Round Draw: West Ham Utd away
Cor Blimey Guv'nor! We've only gone n' pulled the 'ammers owta the 'at!

It'll be jellied eels and mash all around, as I'll be heading out east in two weeks' time to watch the (mostly blue &)Yellows at the Boleyn Ground.

Barely a week back playing in the football league and we are instantly reminded of why a place in the '72' is so cherished; A trip to play a Premiership club at the first opportunity. Maybe even the chance of an upset, with Avram Grant far from settled and doubts about the club's finances still lingering, it's hardly a bunch of roses down at Upton Park.

Plus, West Ham are travelling to Old Trafford on the Saturday following our visit, so there are unlikely to be many first teamers out on display that night.

Mind you, let's not let the exploits of one game let us get carried away with things - If they do play their kids, that could mean we'll get served a lesson directly from 'The Academy of Football' itself...

On another note, I wonder if Joey will be going along to this one? It is quite a long way to travel, especially in midweek rush-hour when the traffic will be really bad.
Beauchamp: Hammering one in on goal.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Brizzle Dazzled

Carling Cup, 1st Round.
OUFC 6 Bristol Rovers 1.

Christ alive.

I wasn't expecting that.

As I now work down in the bowels of England in Kent's Feral Ashford, getting to night games at the KasStad is something of a hassle, especially as leaving early is always something I'm made to feel quite dirty about asking of my boss.

Nonetheless, I sneaked out at 4.30pm last night and arrived, tired, in Oxford just after 7pm for the customary social how-do-you-do in The Blackbird before strolling down Knight's Road towards the floodlights, shining warmly into the night sky.

On the walk down, Branos spicy chicken burger in hand, I was pondering whether my journey back to London that evening was going to be another one I didn't enjoy. Tired, struggling to stay awake and let-down, wondering why I'd gone so far out of my way to watch us disappoint yet again.

Such is the pessimism that is almost ingrained after so many years of slide, that even a Wembley victory cannot totally stop my mind wondering to when Oxford are next going to make me wish I hadn't bothered attending.

Couple that ingrained expectation of disappointment with the fact that we were playing against an established League 1 side, and I did expect we'd struggle to be in the hat for Round 2 today.

Well how ridiculously wrong can you be.

Apart from a short spell at the very start when they did look half a yard faster than us breaking forward, Rovers were in truth nowhere near us. They might have flattered to deceive by pulling a goal back shortly after Oxford went 2 up, but that lapse in allowing Rovers space and time to shoot was a blip soon forgotten as 5 goals rattled the net in the space of 11 minutes.

When our Fourth goal went in, I noticed boyhood Rovers fan Ryan Clarke in our goal turn back towards his goal and wince, rather than celebrate. Ryan, I'll forgive you for not being over far enough for that one Rovers strike as clearly there was a part of you that found the humiliation of your hometown club last night hard to stomach.

All 6 goals Oxford scored were fantastic strikes, with Constable's cheeky scissor kick to make it 5 in front of the East Stand my personal favourite.

Clearly, Rovers fans will have some questions about some poor defending, but if the argument from U's critics after Saturday was that our finishing wasn't up to League 2 standard yet, that charge was answered with 6 very heavy thumps from our attacking line's boots.

So, returning to my car after the game, it was elation and adrenaline instead of caffeine that kept me alert for the drive home. Can't wait for Saturday now. Boy it's good to be back!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Back on the Coupon!

A Fan’s View: By FantasticMrOx

In the immortal words of Jerome Sale on the final whistle at Wembley – Oxford United are ‘Back on the Coupon.’

It might at first seem a fairly throwaway comment but in truth, being back on the coupon is for me all tied up with what getting promoted in May was all really about.

Status.

To be able to declare, as I have proudly since young Mr Potter passed the ball so gracefully into the net that day, that we are Football League is to my mind the greatest joy I’ve taken from my 16 years of supporting OUFC.

No more national obscurity.
No more “Oh, yeah, I remember Oxford, what happened to you?”
No more ‘Qualifying rounds’.
No more purchasing speciality papers in order to read a match report.

No, none of that and more. For we are a member of the 92 once again (well, 72 technically but you know what I mean), and tonight we play again in the League Cup - a privilege we had been excluded from for four years. As former winners of this prestigious cup, it was an exile our fans found even harder to bear than most. Well no longer do we have to bear it, as we are Football League.

I enjoyed a lot about being in the Conference though. That might sound odd, but I think all of us will in some way miss the randomness of trips to the likes of Grays, Histon or Ebbsfleet, and the friendliness found at clubs like Forest Green Rovers.

It was also nice to be the big fish in the little pond. Everywhere we went we would swamp grounds & impress with our travelling support, with many clubs looking forward to their fixture against the ‘giants’ of non-league.

It’s all the nicer now we’ve been promoted to have handed that ‘big fish’ crown over to Luton last season though, obviously. I’m sure they’ll enjoy it too, up to a point (which they may have already passed!).

Four years in Non-League was four years too many for most fans, I’m sure. I can understand that.

The very fact that this level of football is described with reference to a negative; NON-League - It seems more about what it wasn’t. About what we had lost. Rather than what it was and what we still had to re-gain.

Yet I believe that those four years will serve us well in the long run – both as a club and as a group of fans.

Never will we have an arrogance about us that we are ‘too big’ to go down again. Never will the commercial & symbolic implications of losing League status be forgotten.

If you were with me on the terraces of Droylsden & Barrow, or on the muddy sidelines at Tonbridge & AFC Sudbury, you will always be grateful for League status regained and truly understand what that means; Something to be cherished in a way fans of clubs who have not dropped out of the league will never, ever understand unless they go through the same.
AFC Sudbury: on a less muddy day than our visit in Dec 2008.

We are back where we belong, something achieved only after learning to respect the non-league world as a club and as fans. The Football Conference is surely the hardest league in the country to get promoted out of - we can all vouch for that.

But we did get promoted out of it.

We are now on the ladder again. It may well be the bottom rung – but you have to start climbing it somewhere. And those windows on the top floor look like they could do with a damn good scrub to me…

Friday, 6 August 2010

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Season starts tomorrow - yippee!

I'm still not convinced about that new kit though, you know.

Let's face it - it's mainly blue. However you want to frame it, it's a blue kit with yellow, rather than a yellow and blue kit.

Now, I know the arguments about the fact that we only started wearing Yellow in the mid-70s, before that it was gold and if you go back far enough we actually wore gold and blue stripes - you can view the entire history here on Long John Silver's excellent OxKits site.

But we are The Yellows. We sing that song "Come on you Yellows" when we get a corner. We sing that other one, about building it up with Yellow & Blue whilst the apparently falling down S***don Town are asked to vacate the general area.

It will seem silly enough if we are singing Come on You Yellows tomorrow at Burton when they will assumedly be the team in yellow, but it will be stranger still to be singing it at home when we are wearing blue.

Look at the picture of the new shirt here. Now, whilst you may think there is quite a bit of yellow on the front, and that will do, you would be wrong. The sleeves and back thanks to the square needed for numbering, are entirely blue. So are the shorts. And Socks.

When the players are attacking the Fence End at The KasStad, The East Stand will only see blue.

I'm still to be convinced about this therefore being a good idea, as you will obviously realise. I guess if the team scores goals and win games, it doesn't really matter what colour shirt they are wearing. I'm just a traditionalist is all, but I'm sure there was a similar ruffling of feathers when yellow was first introduced, only 30-odd years ago.

Plus, the club is making a few bucks out if it too. You'll always find some idiot prepared to part with his cash, it seems.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Incoming...

Hello there.

I've been asked by the powers that be at OUFC to contribute once more to the Matchday Programme for the coming season.

Now, whereas I won't be contributing to every programme as in season's past, I will be doing a few over the course of the season, and they will be about anything and everything - so thought I would also put the articles up on here as well.

The first one will be in the Bristol Rovers League Cup game, and I'll publish my article from this programme online that evening, August 10th.

Having re-started my non-OUFC specific blog, I may try and write some other stuff specifically about OUFC for this blog as well, but depends how the mood takes me and whether I've actually got much to say. It's quite an effort sometimes to come up with things and I don't want to turn this secondary blog into one that reports on matches or repeats news stories that come along. Or put out crap copy, too often.

This blog is really just for if i do have a thought about OUFC specifically, so I can stick it here where people who might have an interest can find it, rather than clutter up the main blog with articles about James Constable's bean-shaped head or The Beast's latest tattoo that non-OUFC folk will have no idea or interest in.

Subscribe to the RSS feed, and anytime it is updated, you will know. Do pop back tomorrow though, as there will be something new then.

Up The U's, anyway.