Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Oxford vs Swindon - More than a Game

This Saturday, Oxford United and Swindon Town will meet at the Kassam Stadium for just the second time in the ground's history, and for the first time in over nine years. Oxford currently hold claim to the bragging rights between the two clubs after a 2-1 win at the County Ground back in August, but this game is expected to be one of the fiercest matches between the two clubs in recent years, mainly due to the saga involving United talisman James Constable's potential move down the A420 in January. Whatever the result on Saturday, you can guarantee an electric atmosphere, and a fiercely contested match.
Constable celebrates at the County Ground

With Swindon flying high at the top of League 2 and on a nine game winning run before their game against Burton Albion tonight, they will head into the game as favourites, but form really does go out of the window in these matches, and Oxford, on a six match unbeaten run themselves, will know that they have every chance of taking the three points. 

The last time these sides met on Oxford soil was back on the 8th December 2002, in the FA Cup second round, where a single Jefferson Louis goal was enough to send Oxford through to the third round to face Arsenal, the champions of England at the time. The two clubs then didn't meet again for an astonishing 3178 days, just 4 months short of a decade. So as you would expect, the match was eagerly anticipated by both sets of fans, and the 2707 Oxford fans who made the trip were not left disappointed, as their main man in attack James Constable bagged a brace, and they left the County Ground with victory for the first time in over 38 years. 

I've seen a few of my fellow Oxford fans attacking the current manager of the club, Chris Wilder, and his tactics, while I've seen many Swindon fans exclaiming their love for their current boss Paolo Di Canio. To me it seems ludicrous for any Oxford fan to call for the head of Wilder, as although we may not be quite matching our rivals, he's taken us from the Conference, and turned us into serious promotion contenders in just over three years on an extremely tight budget, where as I think a lot of the praise for Di Canio is over the top, as anything can be done with a bit of money to help along the way. But I think it's safe to say if Oxford leave the Kassam on Saturday three points better off, then Wilder will again be seen as a hero, for the remainder of the season at least.

Although many signs leading in to the game may suggest Swindon are favourites, Oxford will head into the game with the support of over 10,000 fans behind them, a force that can propel any team to victories, especially against their rivals. But whichever way the result goes, this game is more than just a game of football, and it's about a whole lot more than just picking up three points, it's about the pride of the football club, and the passion of the fans who follow it.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Beano's Staying!

I know this is a couple of days late, but I couldn't not mention it at all. How often do you see a player reject a giant pay rise to stick with his current club? Loyalty's a rare thing in football, but James Constable showed loyalty on the highest level. 
Beano celebrating at Wembley

Beano wasn't far off of being known as an Oxford legend before this whole saga with Swindon Town, and after rejecting them despite them vowing to 'significantly increase' his wages, I think there's a chance he'll go down in folklore after this episode. 

When I first heard that Swindon had made a bid for Constable I was shocked, and spent the rest of the day praying that we'd keep hold of our talisman, until he openly said 'I have never asked to speak to Swindon' on twitter. I assumed this was the end of the story and we'd still have Beano come the end of the month. But then three days later Swindon came back in with a 'significantly improved' offer, which to the dismay of the Oxford faithful, was accepted, and Constable was allowed to speak to Swindon. I honestly thought we'd lost our top goalscorer to our fiercest rivals, and I was devastated. No amount of money is worth losing a club legend to our neighbours down the A420. So to see Beano decline to even talk to Swindon Town, was fantastic. And having been at the game against Hereford two days after he rejected Swindon, I was obviously not the only person who felt this way. Chants of 'BEANO! BEANO! BEANO!' filled the Kassam from the outset.

Even while some people disgraced the name of Oxford United by sending abusive messages to him on twitter, I can't help but feel the support from the majority of the Oxford United fans in his time at the club was probably a major factor in his decision to stay at the club. Maybe more players will follow in the footsteps of Constable, and will stick by their club, even when a club comes offering more money. Loyalty in football is becoming scarce, but it's a great thing to behold when a player rejects money for the love of a club. James Constable is staying at Oxford United, and he isn't going anywhere soon.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

My First Oxford United Match

Oxford United 3-0 Swansea City (25/08/2003)

I'll start by saying this wasn't actually my very first Oxford United game. I had been to a few games every now and then for a few years beforehand, but this is the first game I went to that I was old enough to remember every magical second of. Well every magical second of the last 5 minutes of a game that otherwise failed to deliver the goals expected, although it was a very attacking game throughout.

Living in Leicester, the majority of my friends and family were all Leicester City fans, everyone I knew supported Leicester other than my step-dad, and only being 7, I wanted to follow in his footsteps on everything. He decided to take me to a game every now and then until this game, when I truly began to love Oxford United. 

It was a real top of the table clash, even if it was only at the end of August. The football was of a high quality from the outset and I remember the chants ringing around me, and even though as a kid you only really love the goals at football, I knew this was a good game. I was starting to lose patience with the game towards the end, until the ground erupted as my favourite player at the time, Dean Whitehead, was fouled for a penalty, which we scored. I don't remember how we scored the other two goals, but I remember smiling all the way home, and for about another week afterwards!

Ever since this day I've supported Oxford United as my one and only club, and I can't thank my step-dad enough for taking me to that game that made me a life-long Oxford United fan.

My Life as an Oxford United Fan

I might be in the younger generation of football fans, but I've followed Oxford United for all my life, and like to think of myself as a real fan, not an armchair supporter who checks the league table once a month, but goes to a game whenever possible, and follows every moment possible. I've been with Oxford from the high's of my lifetime, such as winning the play-off final at Wembley in 2010, to the lows of spending the previous four season with cold Tuesday night trips to the Northern heights of Gateshead in the Conference or even the dizzy heights of almost causing a huge shock in the FA cup against Chelsea just before the turn of the Millenium, my first real footballing memory. The years I've spent following Oxford have taught me that football is more than just a game, it's a Religion.
In my very first season as a fan I had to suffer the worst fate possible to any football fan: relegation. I might not have fully understood as I do now but even at an age as young as I was I knew this was a bad time at the club, even though we took a 5-0 victory over Stockport County on the last day of the Division 1(Now the Championship) season we were relegated by 3 points. On the brighter side of the season; while the club was in financial turmoil, Tazmanian/Pakistani businessman Firoz Kassam bought the club for £1 and took on our £10m+ debts and recommenced the building of our new 12,500 seater stadium, which he in turn named the Kassam Stadium after himself.
in the '99/2000 season we had another abysmal year, though as I said earlier we almost pulled off the FA cup shock of the season against Chelsea, losing out to a late penalty at The Manor, we gained and lost the services of Joe Kinnear, David Kemp and Alan McLeary in the season, and only avoided relegation to Division 3(Now League 2) in the last week of the season.
The next season proved to be a sad end to an era for The Manor Ground as we were relegated from Division 2 to Division 3, where we remained, in and around the play offs until the '05/'06 season when we were again relegated to the Conference, a day where you just cannot help but cry. In these years in Division 3 we went through managers Ian Atkins, Graham Rix, Argentinian Ramon Diaz, Brian Talbot and the man who returned to the club to try and save the club from relegation Jim Smith.

We then spent our first year in the Conference looking favourites for an instant return to the football league until a poor run of form cost us the title, and then a penalties defeat to Exeter in the Play-Off Semi-Final ended our hopes of promotion. The next season started off badly, and Jim Smith was replaced by Darren Patterson who stayed for about a year when he was replaced by our current manager Chris Wilder. We put an incredible run together under Wilder but just missed out on the play-offs due to a 5 point deduction for fielding an ineligble player. But our talisman James Constable won the player of the season award and things were looking up for us. This was also the season that we smashed the Conference attendance record at a match against Woking, an atmosphere that really lit up the ground.
We ended the '09/'10 season in fine form, third in the Blue Square Premier table, drawing us against local rivals Rushden & Diamonds who we beat 3-1 on aggregate to qualify for the final. Walking down Wembley Way to watch, with over 33,000 other Oxford fans, us gain promotion after a 3-1 win over York City has to go down as my happiest moment in football. It was a day that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Our first season back in the football league ended with us finishing five points outside the play-offs and we are now hunting for promotion to League 1. This season has also seen us re-united with our arch rivals Swindon Town who we beat 2-0 at their home ground in front of 12,113 fans, and have already sold out for the return fixture in March.
In these 12 years I've had of being an Oxford United fan I've shed tears of joy, and tears of dejection, but in all truth... I wouldn't swap it for the world.