Saturday 13th December 2014 ko 15.00
OXFORD UNITED 2 (Jones 70og Barnett 90)
BURY 1 (Mayor 63)
Att 6,912 (215 away)
Entry- Season Ticket, my guest FREE
Programme £3 (incl Oxford Mail)
There are several strands to my footballing life, what I travel to watch personally is often different from what I’d organise a groundhop to, and I the only club I watch with any degree of regularity is my home-town team Oxford United. Perhaps the great irony of my existence is that the further the club slid down the footballing pecking order the more creditability I gained in my groundhopping life!
That is, I suppose the dichotomy of football these days. My club plays at an out-of-town 3-sided, new build stadium, next door to the sewage works. In short, just about everything a groundhopper should hate, but there is another side to it, my elderly father can take the lift to his seat on the top tier, and my sister can watch the game alongside him. Yes, its sanitised, and in Oxford United terms, my heart will be at the out-moded, sloping, multi-stand magnificence that was the Manor Ground, but my feelings towards the new place aren’t universally negative.
The problem the club has is making the place feel like home. It doesn’t help that the ground is owned by a former chairman, domiciled in Monaco, and under virtually no incentive to either improve the place or sell. There’s also the vexed question of the itinerant welsh rugby team renting the pitch and one stand to lose their matches on. I really don’t understand why their logo is on the stands that they have no use for. Their presence gives the stadium owner another income from the edifice, making it still more valuable to him. But no matter what the circumstances, you have to make your surroundings work for you.
This match gave me the chance to try something. With capacity to burn the club decided to allow season ticket holders to bring a guest for free. So I invited a well-known groundhopper for a look, and I took a more dispassionate view of my team for a cold afternoon.
The first impression was the supporters’ shop in the Quad bar, then the friendly welcome from Alan on turnstile one, then Business Development Manager Peter Rhoades-Brown taking the time to come over to have a chat, and ask after my father who hasn’t been well recently. As far as I’m concerned Peter is as close as it gets to being the beating heart of Oxford United.
There’s Martin Brodetsky’s excellent programme, I’ve yet to see a better publication this season, the children’s pre-game play area in a corner is something I’d have loved when I first attended games back at the Manor.
You could see how impressed my hopper friend was, perhaps I was guilty of looking at Oxford United’s home as simply a piece of industrial architecture, but with the club were making the effort to get all the small things right, the game should mean plenty of those free-ticket holders will buy a ticket for a subsequent game.
In many respects it showed why Oxford United are below mid-table and why they are starting the climb the table. We still pass aimlessly far too much, and mistake pretty football for effective play. United controlled a game where the visitors would have been clearly happy with a point, and could easily have ended up with all three.
But what better way to send those one-time visitors home with a home win courtesy of a final minute goal? To add to it all the scorer Tyrone Barnett returned to parent club Peterborough United after this game. Perhaps his legacy to Oxford United will be a few hundred on the gate on Boxing Day at home to Shrewsbury Town!
In the end I’ll probably never be able to reconcile the two sides to my football. I love the ancient rickety grounds, in fact I’m planning a visit to one next weekend, but over the last few years I’ve learned to appreciate the modern too. Each in its place, I suppose is the key to it all.