Saturday, 30 April 2011

Last Home Game

An Article also published in today's matchday programme against Lincoln City.

Blimey, is it that time already? Last home game of the season? Time flies doesn’t it?

I mean, it only seems like, what? Nine months ago that we were sat here for that Carling Cup game against Brizzle Rovers?

Oh, it was nine months ago. Well there you go then.

It’s been a topsy-turvy old season and that’s for sure. Beating a team a division above 6-1 in the cup, a trip to Premiership West Ham and some fine, fine performances putting us within a whisker of promotion at one point were all on the topsy side of things.

Losing 5-0 at Bradford, crashing out early in the FA Cup, losing points at home we shouldn’t have with some mediocre performances and the season fizzling out two weeks early probably were all on the turvy side of things. Whatever a turvy is. (Actually, didn’t he used to play in goal for us?)

So we will be missing out on play-offs and promotion this season barring some strange points deduction shenanigans, a mass resignation of clubs from the league or a plague of locusts somehow contriving to affect the established points totals (don’t scoff - this was exactly what curtailed the Egyptian League season early in the 1,500 BC -1,549 BC season).

Smokebombs at Accrington. Smoky.
But hey, come on guys – has it really been a disappointing season? It’s an old cliché but we know we’d all have taken mid-table security in August if it had been offered to us, after the nightmare of 4 seasons in exile outside the 92.

And although there is one mentalist who rings up Radio Oxford after every game to say what a disgrace and a disaster this season has been (seriously though, what is that guy on?), I think most of us can say we’ve enjoyed it can’t we? Being a FL club, in the national media every weekend again. Picking up any newspaper’s sport section and knowing our results will be in there – not just in a small-type paragraph at the bottom of the page, but with it’s own little spot and probably featuring the goal scorers from the game as well. Simple pleasures.

Being mentioned every week on BBC’s Football League Show has been a revelation for me too. I don’t always stay up but I always tape it and watch the League 2 bit the next morning, and still give a little cheer to myself whenever our match highlights come on.

Clem & Claridge: BBC Oddbods.

Having the likes of that Clem fellow visit us to do a feature, then being talked about by Steve Claridge and that other nondescript bloke whilst also noticing the little Oxford badge behind their heads on the glass panel. Simple pleasures.

The simple pleasure too of adding to the collection of League grounds visited has been brilliant too (although many of the grounds do still seem to share a lot of the, err, shall we say ‘character’, of the non-league world). I’m now up to 65 of the current 92, if you’re interested.

Yeah, ok, so you say out loud to your mates that counting the grounds is really sad - but we all know that you’ve counted them too at one point and you probably know how many you’ve done as well, don’t pretend otherwise!

So today, as we near the end of that first season back in the league we are playing only for pride and respect for the other teams in the relegation battle, as our opponents Lincoln are still very much looking over their shoulder towards the chasm of non-league that we so greatly returned from last May.

So whereas for Lincoln the fingernail chomp is still very much in evidence – as Oxford fans we can start to sit back and think about next season’s cruise to the title.

Bring on the Swindon.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. And another Ha.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The A420 Classico

Thought I'd share with you this article here, from today's Metro, which talks (albeit briefly and with only a surface-level scratching, as is this particular rag's style) about the long-overdue renewing of rivalries next season with the rancid hordes of Wiltshire.

I agree wholeheartedly with Gavin Brown's sentiment. Just a shame he's a scummer.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Inspired to Give up Football

Hello there. I'm away on holiday this weekend, so will be missing today's big fixture against the Champions-elect. What a disgrace! Anyway, here is an article I wrote for today's programme. You can let me know if the naughty programme editor doesn't publish it.

It has a rather tenuous link to today's game, but it is about football - and this is a football blog. So I'm publishing it here.

Don't read if you like to keep things a bit more relevant on a matchday.

Chesterfield: Crooked Spire comes to Dreaming Spires.

The Clough, My Uncle, Steve Ogrizovic and his Lover.

Chesterfield are one of those teams I have a soft spot for due to the fact that my Father grew up in nearby Tibshelf. My uncle was also on the books of Chesterfield as a youngster, playing alongside a certain Coventry legend Steve Ogrizovic in the youth team (Younger readers may not remember him but anyone of a certain age will. And I am of a certain age. At least these days if you are too young to remember him you can look him up online. We only had Panini stickers as reference tools in my day).

Ogrizovic: Coventry Goalkeeper turned Ghostbusters foe.

My uncle never made it into the Chesterfield first team, nor as a professional footballer at all – but things might have been very different for him were it not for the whims of a certain red-nosed managerial genius at a nearby first division side. So different in fact, my uncle will often be heard to recount, that instead of owning a flooring business for a living he might have a European Cup winner’s medal were it not for that certain manager’s dismissive and rambunctious style.

My uncle you see went for a brief trial as a teenager in the late 1970’s at Nottingham Forest, whilst Brian Clough was manager. This was certainly a very prestigious opportunity for him, and the chance to get on the books of one of the country’s top sides at the time and play a part in a potential football league championship and European Cup-winning squad.
He was invited to play in a game with other trialists at Forest’s training ground, in front of a number of Forest coaching staff, including Clough’s right-hand man Peter Taylor. Now, whether my Uncle embellishes the tale or not is up for debate – but he tells me he had a remarkable game and even bagged a couple of goals. Surely, he had done enough to impress Forest enough to take a second look, he thinks.
Ol' Big 'Ead with Ol' Jug Ears.
The trialists were then told by Taylor that Mr Clough was on his way down to the training ground to pick out a couple of trialists to come back and feature in a full reserve team game later that week. My uncle was clearly very excited as he knew he’d done enough in that game to impress and Taylor would surely be highlighting that fact to Mr Clough on his arrival.
So in pulled Clough to the car park, who then strolled across to the group, asked them to do a quick lap of the pitch, and then stand in line as he walked past them giving them all nothing but a cursory glance.
He then picked out 4 of the 20 or so boys stood in line with a jabbed finger in their direction and a simple “You, You, You and you. You can come back tomorrow. The rest of you, thanks for your time.”

"You are a bloody disgrace!"
I can just imagine my uncle’s perplexed face at this point, as he still has that pained face whenever he recounts the tale today. He stood forward nervously to ask Old Big ‘ead a question.

Clough:    “What do you want lad?"
My Uncle: “Well, I’m sorry Mr Clough but you haven’t even seen us play, you’ve only seen us run around the pitch! How do you know if we are worth coming back if you haven’t even seen us play?”
Clough:    “I don’t need to see you play, because you don’t even look like a footballer.”

And with that, quick as a flash Clough was off back to his car. He had not even spoken to a single member of his coaching staff about how any of the boys had played.
It would be nice for my uncle to be able to say that this disillusioned him with the world of football so he simply quit the game forever, but that wouldn’t be true of course, he still had other opportunities and was obviously just not quite good enough. Something that the genius of Clough could obviously tell just by the look in his eyes.
Still, a nice little story, I hope you’ll agree.
A silly little story though and quite vaguely related to today’s fixture maybe, but hey, Whad’ya want from me?

Up the U’s.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Stanley Welcomes Careful Drivers

Saturday, 16th April 2011
nPower League Two
Accrington Stanley 0 OUFC 0


So, once again the meeting of matter and anti-matter cancel each other out. Professor Brian Cox, sat in a conservatory behind the stand on Saturday in a radiation suit and sunglasses, was there to witness the expected cataclysm in the space-time continuum as two teams that should never have met on the field of play did battle for a second time this season.

Thankfully for all not interested in witnessing a meltdown in the very fabric of the universe, neither Accrington nor Oxford managed to find the net and thus remain in the permanent state of equilibrium with each other, and the galaxy is at peace. Two games played, two 0-0 draws. There is clearly no possible way either team can break this natural ordering of things, no goal will EVER be scored in these ties and Professor Cox will forever be denied his event horizon moment.

So anyway, this was one I was very much looking forward to all season - the trip to Accrington Stanley. It might just be the nostalgia of that Milk commercial from the 80's (If you are too young to remember this, that makes me want to cry). It might be the hype around the coincidence of our mirrored promotions/relegations to and from the football league in 1962 and 2006. Or it might simply be the intrigue of a team so oddly-named as 'Stanley'.
Eitherway, I was bang up for this one, and not even a twat of a gouty foot was going to stop me making the 470-mile round trip. It did try to though.

Those afflicted with gout will know that you need to drink plenty of fluid to stave off an attack. Well I did this, but the 3 litres of water I'd downed on the way up meant no less than 4 emergency stops on the hard shoulder of the M6 to relieve my over-filled bladder. Thankfully, no Juggernaut plowed into the back of my car during these stops and after 3.5 hours of travelling I was into the Northern Lancashire countryside and descending through the escarpment of the Pennines into the surprisingly pleasant town of Accrington.

Crown Ground Accrington: Nice.
I say surprisingly peasant as I have a dreadful preconception of all Lancashire/Yorkshire towns as being run-down places full of dreary black slate & sooty brick houses, abandoned textile mills and feral children with dirty faces running around with no shoes. This LS Lowry-esque preconception I somehow fail to get out of my head because I spent my entire childhood visiting Grandparents in Huddersfield and driving through the many run-down parts of that Town that there were in the 1980s. Bloody Thatcher, eh? Things have changed Oop North, sadly my addled and bigoted mind has not, I am ashamed to admit.

Mind you, there were some feral children with dirty faces and no shoes running around in the streets of the estate next to the ground.

The funny little stand: Brian Cox in a Conservatory behind.
The Crown Ground itself is a wonderfully rustic place. Reminiscent of Altrincham's ground, except with a more dilapidated corrugated-iron stand with only 3 rows of seats to the right of the away end. Before the home end opposite had even filled up, it was festooned with flags and banners and it seemed a very friendly place to visit. I liked the place.

They even had a goggle-eyed Mutt as a mascot, who cheerily gave the Oxford faithful the thumbs up throughout the verbal assault he sustained whilst making a visit to say hello to us. Good on him.

Goggle-Eyed Mutt: Friendly.
What I didn't like was the naughty red-faced groundsman, who peppered the away terraces with high-powered spray from his sprinkler system, then decided that the away fans taking umbrage with being totally soaked was totally outrageous behaviour and decided to have a row with some of them at the front for being so precious. Naughty man.

U's fans getting a soaking.
After wringing my soaked shirt dry and cursing the red-faced loon some more, I settled into my position behind the goal and looked forward to the game, along with what appeared to be extras from Deliverance stood behind me.

The game itself got better as time went on. You can see why Accrington have such a great home record, as they came at Oxford from the off and had a good few chances to take the game away from us before Oxford had even got into 2nd gear. Their fans, although helped by what seemed to be a full brass band, were in good voice and the atmosphere was a great example of what a small but vocal crowd can create in League Two.

Match Action! Wow!
The second half was much better for Oxford. We created a lot more space for ourselves, seemed to pass it about well and although still short on real guilt-edged chances, I thought we did enough to earn that point, despite a few nervy moments at the end. Special mention for Big Jimmy Sangare, who was a rock at the back, I thought and has taken his chance at slotting into the back four well.

Jedward were loving it.

Jedward: Big fans of OUFC

And so, 0-0 it was (and was surely always destined to be) and the long 4 hour drive back to London for me with the knowledge that any real chance of promotion this season is realistically behind Oxford now.

But things are not looking so bad for next season, I reckon. Let's just hope Accrington go up so we don't risk ending the universe again by playing each other for a third time.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Big M40 Derby

+++An article you can also read in today's Matchday Programme+++

Why come, Wanderers?

Wycombe Wanderers, our near-neighbours are in town this afternoon, that’s why. But they are not our rivals. Oh no. And we are not theirs. No, no no. We don’t care about each other’s fortunes at all, do we?

Well of course we do.

It’s one of those games we all look forward to, isn’t it? And yet we try to kid ourselves that we do not. Because we are not rivals. No, not in any way.

Well, actually yes, in many ways.

Today will be one of if not the biggest Oxford home crowd of the season, with a bumper home turn-out plus a 1,500+ following expected to journey up the M40 from Buckinghamshire.

But it’s just like any other game really. There’s nothing special to it, just because we happen to be close to each other, so what? There is no rivalry there.

What bunkum!

No it doesn’t ignite the same passions as the increasingly-more-likely visit next season of the web-fingered hordes of Wiltshire. Perhaps also victory this afternoon will never feel as good as would getting one over on a certain jumped-up little Berkshire side that seem to have had ideas above their station in the last decade.
But in the absence of these two, Wycombe will surely do as something to get excited about this season. If either team come away with 3 points today, you tell me it isn’t a rivalry when looking at the differing reactions of the two sets of fans. Even if in the cold, calculated light of day both sets may try to blag indifference, in the heated immediate aftermath of the contest, passions will assuredly be higher than if this were just any random League Two fixture.
If you were to go on proximity alone, Wycombe would win the rivals test hands down. It’s 23 miles from Oxford to Wycombe, and a very easy trip down the M40. Compare that to the distances to Swindon and Reading - 30 and 27 miles respectively, via quickest routes.

OK, so it’s not much fun trying to go via train to Wycombe. You’d need to go from Bicester North or into London and out again – if you are interested. But you are not, so that’s irrelevant.

But it’s not about proximity. Well, not just about proximity anyway. More often it’s about years of playing against each other at a similar level, and the built up tensions of that local derby over many, many seasons. That’s why we don’t like Swindon and Reading – we played them a hell of a lot in the 60s, 70s and 90s (We were a bit too busy winning championships and the league cup to bother with them for most of the 80s, of course).

In both sets of fan’s desire to try and play down any rivalry between Oxford and Wycombe, we often like to point to a lack of history between the two clubs. True enough, Wycombe only entered the football league back in 1993. Not least because of our recent exile to the non-league wastes from whence they came; our respective time together in the same divisions of the football league has been fleeting, in the scheme of things.
But for some of us in our 20s and 30s, matches against Wycombe have seemed as frequent as matches against Reading or Swindon. Certainly in the past 10 years since we moved to Grenoble Road, if they are anything to go by (which they are, after all) we’ve played Swindon only once and Reading only twice. Yet the Chairboys and The U’s have done battle 6 times.

So assuming we both continue to play each other regularly over the years, there is no reason why we can’t develop this rivalry into something we don’t try and brush under the carpet, but embrace it for what it really is. A team from nearby that we don’t really like, and who don’t really like us.

So here’s looking forward to a renewed grudging acquaintance next season, by whatever means that meeting can be arranged. An Oxford win today would be a good start.

I suggest getting a lift with someone though, next time we play at Wycombe. The trains are rubbish.