Saturday, 26 February 2011

On Being a Fan...

Here is an article you may also read in today's matchday programme v. Hereford.
On Being a Fan...Football fans are funny creatures. It takes a certain slightly-odd mindset to be one.
I’m not talking about the people that turn up to the pub on a Sunday afternoon in ‘their’ Premiership team’s current replica shirt, have some mild banter with like-minded people in other team’s shirts as they watch their teams battle it out for Premiership seniority on Sky.
No, I don’t mean these kind of people. It’s very easy to be this kind of person. All it takes after all is a trip to JJB Sports, £50 for the shirt and perhaps a lobotomy. These Shirt-wearing, TV-watching, “I’ve never been north of Birmingham but my heart is at Old Trafford” types are not football fans in my eyes. The terminology I use for them is ‘watchers’ of the game.

A real football fan – or supporter, or follower or whatever you wish to call yourself – is someone who has a team they love, normally for a reason other than “they are quite good” or “I like the way they play”, and as often as they are able to they actually go and watch them play. You know, pay money and walk through one of those turnstile thingummies and actually sit in the ground. Someone like you and me (assuming you are reading this at the game and haven’t picked up this programme in a jumble sale in a few years time that is. If you have, you have probably got yourself a real bargain – nice one).
Now, what makes us do this, I don’t know. For all the distaste I sometimes feel for the glory-hunters, you have to admit that to an outsider, it makes a lot more sense to be sat at home watching it on your sofa, or in a nice warm pub with a frothing lager in your hand, and to be supporting a team that wins the trophies every season.

So what is it that makes thousands of people still stream through the turnstiles every week here to watch Fourth-tier football? Surely the easiest solution to frequently being guffawed at by the ignorant Premiership fans in the pub is to get down to JJB, get that replica shirt and join them in their title-winning revelries.

What an easy retort it would be to the Man Utd fan boasting about how great their team are to say “Well actually, I have just decided I support Spain, who are better than Man Utd and current World Champions. I have based this decision on nothing more than that they are really good, and retain the right to change my mind if they start being rubbish again and support someone else. So ner ner nah ner ner!”

But we don’t do that, do we? Instead most of us come back week after week, regardless of how good or bad Oxford results have been, regardless of who Oxford are playing, regardless even of what division or standard of football Oxford are playing in.

That kind of loyalty is of course a wonderful thing – but it is you must admit, also an odd thing. At times it’s also a loyalty that keeps you going to watch them when you’ve not even enjoying the experience.
Although in recent years we have certainly been right-royally entertained by our current crop of stars, I don’t need to tell anyone who has been coming for years that the majority of the last decade has been less than value-for-money entertainment.
I lost count of how many Saturday mornings I spent less in anticipation of an exciting afternoon of football, but more in grudging acceptance that I simply had to go up and watch them play crap football out of ‘duty’. Many a day I left a nice warm bed and passed up the chance to do something else that afternoon that might not have put me in a foul mood or left me shivering on a cold terrace and contracting food poisoning from a manky burger.

FMO: “Oh god, is it Saturday morning already? Christ I’ve got to go up the Manor and watch David Kemp try to assemble something resembling a football team again.”
Girlfriend: “Why do you do it if you don’t enjoy it? Why don’t you just stay here? I’ll make you breakfast in bed, then we can go to the cinema, have a nice meal, a few drinks, it’ll be lovely.”
FMO: “Nah. I’ve got to go. I’d feel like I should be somewhere else all day if I don’t.”
Girlfriend: “Please yourself. But if you go I won’t be here when you get back.”
FMO: “Sorry I didn’t catch that – I’m gonna miss my train. Talk later. Yellows!”
Ex-Girlfriend: “What a mental.”

That’s the mentality of the real football fan and as I say, it is slightly odd and those that don’t subscribe to our strange passion often wonder why we do it.

Well, we all know why, don’t we? The feeling of belonging to something, being a part of a group, is of course a very strong bond. The camaraderie between others around you that you see every week but wouldn’t probably have even considered socialising with were it not for your mutual love of Oxford. The shared experience of the many, many, (way too many) disappointments makes the elation felt and shared in the highs all the more enjoyable. A passing fan could not enjoy the promotion party at Wembley as much as we did because they never felt the lows of all the Tonbridge Angels and Droylsdens.
Quite simply – the glory-hunters would never understand nor be able to appreciate the joy of supporting a team like Oxford on anything like as many levels as we can as regulars through the turnstiles.

That’s right – this is deep intellectual stuff right here. Feel good about it.
And up those U’s!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Boroughers

Tuesday, 15th February 2011.
nPower League Two
Stevenage (not Borough) 0 OUFC 0

Why does it always fucking rain when we play at Stevenage? Last night was my 5th visit to Broadhall Way and other than an August Bank Holiday visit back in 2007, I remember vividly getting pissed on to and from every game.

Another thing that always seems to happen is that we fail to win. Sadly this means that should we have the misfortune to find ourselves in the same division as this charlatan non-league outfit again next season, I'll probably have to get wet again in the vain hope we'll beat them on their soggy, muddy patch.

For me, the trip to Stevenage on a Tuesday night is not a difficult one - my normal train home from work arriving at St Pancras in good time to hop over to adjacent Kings Cross and get the packed commuter train North from there - first stop Stevenage just 20mins later.

The problem with arriving at Stevenage by train though is that the ground is just under 2 miles away and a pig of a walk along the new-town's many roundabout underpasses and long, boring conecting roads with nothing but retail parks for the view. The concrete structures around the train station and pedestrianised shopping areas of Stevenage remind you of what they thought the near-future would look like in 1970s sci-fi films. Only a bit run-down and grubby. If you've seen 'Conquest of the Planet of the Apes', you'll know what I mean.

One of my very best friends used to live in Stevenage and always used to go on about how good a place it is to live because of it's connections to London. I'd agree with him- the best thing about Stevenage is that it's easy to get the fuck away from the place quickly once you are at the station. The trouble is getting to and from the station though amidst a concrete nightmare of the town centre.

Stevenage: Is it just me or does it look like an airport?
 See, I'm too mean to get a taxi, and too aloof to share a bus with locals. so I walked in the rain to the ground. I wish I'd just found a taxi by the time the drizzle had taken it's toll on my inappropriate rainwear, when i stopped half-way for a warming apple pie in one of the ubiquitous McDonald's (the third one I'd walked past).

It didn't warm me or my soggy jeans up, but it certainly did scorch the inside of my mouth. I'd have complained but they did clearly warn me about the potential molten contents on the packaging. Lesson learnt.

So I rejoined the drizzle and found my way to the miserably tin-pot 'Lamex Stadium' of Stevenage FC. Yes, that's right - they appear to have had a name-makeover since being (incorrectly in my view) admitted to the Football League this season.

Apparently the dropping of the 'Borough' was an attempt to make the club look a bit less non-league with all the mickey-mouse connotations that the affix is thought to have in people's mind. If they really want to try and impress us though with affected Football League credentials, they could move Stevenage to a real town rather than one built 30 years ago and not have a drummer as the only noise coming out of their home end. Plus it's a bit half-hearted to still have 'Boro' as their official nickname. Why not pick something apt like the "Contretists" or "Roundabouters" ?

Pre-Match Huddle
I'm procrastinating a bit as the game itself wasn't really much to write home about. It looked as though it might be, with both sides rattling the woodwork within the first 4 minutes - but there wasn't really much else to write home about for the remainder of the game, save for a second rattle of the post by Craddock and an unnervingly physical game that at times Oxford seemed to struggle with from a typical niggly Stevenage side.

2nd half especially, Oxford looked a bit short of ideas - although we did have a few good chances late in the game when we pressured the goal at the end that we were sat in. Here are a few low-grade action shots of that period of pressure.

Not very good are they? Well, neither was the game, so it's giving you a fair reflection. Still, positives are it was another decent clean sheet, and 4 points from the week is a good haul against two sides also still very much 'in the mix'.

So, another 90mins at Stevenage and another draw there, our 4th in 5 visits. Now it was time to get back to the station. I decided I could do with some exercise, plus it was no longer raining so I bust a gut to get the earlier train back to the Big Smoke. I made it with seconds to spare, to find out the bastard was delayed. OK, only by 4 minutes, but I was still annoyed after all that running that I might have been able to take a breather.

Made some new friends on the platform who were excited about something or other and having some exuberant pictures of themselves taken before getting their train to London. Perhaps they were celebrating how easy it was to get out of Stevenage. Good on them.
Girls Leaving Stevenage: Excited.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Millers Crossing

Saturday, 12th February 2011.
nPower League Two
OUFC 2 Rotherham United 1

The U's are going up! The U's are going up! And now you're gonna believe us...etc., etc.

You start thinking it might actually be our year when things start dropping in our favour. Yes we battered Rotherham at times in that 2nd half, but we might have even ended up coming away with nothing thanks to an annoyingly fine display from a 70-year old man in the Rotherham goal and the inability of Le Fondre to put away a gilt-edged chance with minutes to spare.

You could point to bad luck in that we should have been coasting with 20mins to go, especially after the two one-on-ones that Beano failed to finish from. But it was beginning to look like 'one of those days' as shot after shot was either squandered or turned wide by the liver-spotted hand of Andy Warrington. Some of his reaction saves in that second half were first class in fact, and as great an advert for the beneficial affects of Cod Liver Oil pills as you are likely to find.
The Rotherham keeper claims another loose ball
So well was the old-timer playing in fact that it looked like he'd kept out MacLean's penalty with another fine reaction save. Luckily, the luck was with the lucky boys, and as he seemed to explain to Big Steve whilst waiting for a corner delivery shortly afterwards, the ball caught him on the inside of his wrist. Bad luck old feller, good luck Oxford. 2-1.
Anyway I've babbled too much about the actual game - I'm sure most people reading this are more interested in what I got up to before and after the game, aren't you?

Well I'm going to tell you anyway.

No drive up the M40 this week as I'd spent Friday night at the in-laws in Reading, so it was a relaxing country drive up the A4074 instead. I love that road. I used to do it every day for a number of years when I lived in Oxford and worked in Henley and still know the position of every bend and pot-hole on the stretch between Nuneham Courtney and Crowmarsh Gifford. One of the potholes near Benson has got a little bigger in the past few years though, so my efforts to drive round it by memory alone without reducing my speed saw me slam my front wheels in to the corner of the hole and nearly lose control and end up in an adjacent field. Luckily, the luck was smiling on the lucky today, as already established. So instead I just soiled myself slightly and decided to be a bit more careful, and perhaps stop for some wet-wipes at the next garage.

After my normal pre-match pint in the Blackbird, I took leave of my senses and didn't go to Branos for a spicy chicken burger. For some reason, I decided to go elsewhere. It might have been that I just felt like a change. It might have been that it seemed like too much effort to walk out of my way on this occasion. Or it might have been the fact that at the last game I seemed to contract a mild dose of food poisoning (which might or might not have been down to the spicy chicken burger, my legal advisors have asked me to point out) and I didn't fancy an afternoon on the toilets in the Kassam.

So I thought I'd play it safe and check out the fishcakes on offer at the Fish & Chip shop. I'm afraid the fishcake wasn't as good as the one from Gillingham last weekend, and my request to have extra vinegar on the chips seemed to have been taken that I would like to eat a vinegar soup with chip croutons.

I'll be honest - these establishments are never going to get into the Egon Ronay guides unless they listen more attentively to their customers.
Fishcake & Chips: Vinegary.
My heart screaming at me to cease digesting the acidic broth, I eventually stumbled down to the ground and into another exciting footballing adventure.

Once again, the excitement was mostly in the last 20mins and consisted yet again of Oxford failing to do it the easy way and keeping us with squeaky bums right up until the final whistle - but we did it again, another 3 points and a great performance.

I hate to focus too much on the game itself when there is so much fast-food based content to spew out at you, but I must tell you that I am very excited about the new lad Hackney. Looked a touch of class when he came on, terrorised their back line with his pace and could be a very effective impact partnership with Potter, especially if brought on together for the last 30 minutes.

Still early days and of course Wilder will be judged on the end of season rather than mid-Feb position, but how many people at the moment look as though they might be eating their words about the players he's let go compared to what he's brought in to replace them?

It's looking pretty good right now, don't you think?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Gillingham Taylforth

Saturday, 5th February 2011.
nPower League Two

Gillingham 0 OUFC 0

Bah, what a bore-draw that was! I didn't really enjoy this one - thought both sides were pretty mediocre to be honest and no amount of  "but it is a good point away from home"-ing from other fans can change my mind on this. We were average, they were average, the point was earned through attrition and lack of adventure. There, that's that said.

Getting down to Gillingham was a doddle for me. As I go through North Kent everyday on the train to and from work, I simply had to hop on the HighSpeed line from St Pancras and pay an extra £5 from Ebbsfleet to get me to the wonders of Gillingham.

My, my - what a delightfully shit town this is. A lot of people from the South of England probably have a conception as the North of our wonderful country to be 'run-down' and have the most crappy towns. A quick trip to Gillingham may have you thinking again.

The word 'bleak' might well have been invented to describe Gillingham.* I know Oxford have their fair share of Chavs on show at every away day, but this little enclave of North Kent seemed to have been broadcasting a trance-inducing Pikey-signal, drawing them in from all around to mope about aimlessly on the streets like a scene from Dawn of the Dead.

The Rt. Hon MP for Gillingham North

Every fake burberry-capped, spotty, tracksuit-wearing oaf and every WKD-swigging teenage mother with scraped-back peroxide hair seem to have congregated in Gillingham on Saturday to hang about outside the dodgy fried chicken outlets and no doubt sniff some glue, or whatever it is the displaced yoofs of today get up to (To be honest my cultural references to these wasted generations hasn't really been updated since 1980s Grange Hill).

I might be being unfair to Gillingham - it might have it's nice points. Just I didn't notice them on my visit. I did meet a friendly Oxford face on the train down though, and joined him and a few other Yellows for a few pre-match pints in a pub opposite the station - typically dingy but quite a welcoming watering hole to be fair. It might well be a run-down town, but I will admit that it wasn't an unfriendly place.

Although if any of the residents read this blog they may be waiting for me with pitchforks and torches next time we play there.
Oooh, Sauce!

I ended up getting a little drunk before the game and in need of spicy-burger refreshment to sober up somewhat. Sadly, there is no Branos in Gillingham and I didn't like the look of Kent Fried Chicken in town.

So instead I followed my nose to the ground and found a well-placed Turkish-run place and ordered a fishcake and chips. I also took some rather arty shots of the inside of the takeaway, that I think highlights to you just how pissed I was.

Fishcake-Dispensing Action!

I can however heartily recommend their fishcakes, next time you happen to be in the area. Very well-fried.

The entrance for away fans to Gillingham's ground is an odd one, with away turnstiles placed at the dead-end of a residential cul-de-sac of mostly run-down terrace housing.
Mind you, if I lived there, I might not bother to do up the front of my house too much, considering the heavy footfall of away fans each season that might enjoy relieving themselves in my front garden or chucking their rubbish at my windows.

That said, I doubt very much if I'd ever find myself living there in the first place, actually.

Away Turnstiles, Gillingham
Inside the ground, the temporary away seating held together with precarious-looking scaffolding was still there from my previous visit in 2005. I had assumed at the time it was temporary, at least. Seeing as how it's Six years later and still there though, I'd say it has a feeling of permanence about it. Although, it felt at any moment as though that permanency would soon be tested when the Oxford fans at the back started doing the 'Jump up if you love Oxford' song.
The view under my seat. Terrifying.
Mind you, at least the threat of almost perishing amidst a collapsing jungle of scaffolding made the 90mins interesting. As it was, the most interesting bit of the day was that fishcake.

Here are a couple more pictures of Priestfield Road - I don't have much else to say, as it was a fairly uneventful journey home.

Priestfield Road: Gillingham.

Oh, there was also the bloke that threatened to smack my head in because I took a picture of a placard in the back seat of his car that read "My Fucking Brother". Quite a funny story actually.

My Fucking Brother: "I just had to tell people, Bro".

*It wasn't though.