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Saturday 6th July 2013 ko 15.00

Pre-Season Friendly

ARDLEY UNITED 1 (Brooks 74p)

OXFORD UNITED 2 (Potter 48 Smalley 90)

Att 670

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

There are several strands these days to my football watching, its long since stopped being just about the game alone, in fact I suspect that’s the case with many groundhoppers who’ve graduated from the easy-to-reach local grounds. Sometimes I want to travel, sometimes I’m looking for a location, others its the Vulture Job, visiting a ground before the bulldozers move in.

I am of course an Oxford United fan, and a fan also of the local football scene, and Ardley playing fields are just the one exit north of Oxford on the M40, lying virtually adjacent to Junction 10. With Oxford United sending the first-team squad to the Hellenic League Premier outfit for the both club’s first pre-season friendly, it gave me quite a few good reasons to attend. For one, my girlfriend and I were to visit Ash, my Uni pal in Twickenham in the evening so a long distance jaunt was out of the question. With the weather scorching I also knew Dad would fancy a trip out, so I threw a collapsible chair in the back of the car, my mind was made up.

Apart from being the other side of the motorway from Cherwell Valley Services the village of Ardley is now more or less fused with the village of Fewcott (they had a Oxon Senior League side until recently). The conjoined twins sit on a bed of Jurassic limestone, which apart from hosting a colony of Greater Crested Newts, also provided a good base on to build Ardley Castle. The edifice was a motte-and-bailey affair which is believed to have been built during during the civil war of the Anarchy between 1139 and 1154, fought between Empress Matilda and King Stephen.

Intriguingly these castles were Adulterine, or built without Royal consent, this one would have been built by Matilda, and perhaps its unsurprising that very little of it is now left, just some earth banking and ditches.

On arrival at the football club a few strands of my football watching were in evidence. Ardley’s normally attendances are the tens, not hundreds, and even getting everyone parked was going to be an issue. When I’m organising groundhops I dream of clubs like Ardley, who approached their day with a clear head, and so reaped the reward. It was in marked contrast to my first visit here, when I watched Ardley play Adderbury Park. The players changed in the cricket pavilion, and the only other “Facilties” were the pitchside rail and a set of dugouts. The club won Groundtastic’s “Most Improved Ground” award in 2005.

Cars were parked on the cricket field, at no charge so few opted to annoy the neighbours by parking on the road. The welcome at the pay booth was as warm as the ambient temperature, and I wondered if the club had used their experience in hosting a Hellenic League Groundhop game back in 2005. Mind you the crowd that day was 278; this was on another scale altogether. A temporary bar was set up to sell soft drinks, and somehow the burger bar kept pace with the huge demand.

Ardley chairman Norman Stacey managed to combine hospitality with stadium announcements and the needs of Radio Oxford broadcasting live commentary. That created a minor issue when it was discovered that the socket they were using for power was the one the club normally uses for the PA… It summed the afternoon up nicely that the plugs were rearranged, and everything worked perfectly.

For a pre-season friendly at a lower league to work well from a League club’s perspective two things need to happen. Ardley staged the game beautifully, but the team has play passing football without resorting to any rough play.

In the latter respect Ardley won the plaudits on the pitch on the pitch as much as they did off of it. They passed and moved well, and were good value for the goalless score line at half time. A complete change of team for the visitors saw Dave Kitson, a man who once commanded a £5.5 million transfer make his first Oxford United appearance. His impact was almost immediate, chasing a lost cause on the left flank and finding Alfie Potter for him to slot home for the first goal.

Ardley’s equaliser was rather fortuitous. Tom Newey’s contact with Jason Castello looked minimal and outside of the box, but former OUFC youth teamer Ryan Brooks put the penalty away well sending Max Crocombe the wrong way. But with seconds left Deane Smalley’s shot was brilliantly pushed away by Jack Harding. Danny Rose took the resulting corner and his curling effort found Smalley’s head perfectly to give the visitors the win.

Not of course anything much need be read into the result. This was about players getting to know each other, and the management to try new tactics and see who works best with who. For everyone else it was a hugely enjoyable afternoon out and one I trust will be repeated. If that does happen, I fully expect Oxford United to be re-visiting a Southern League club.