Sunday 3rd April 2016 ko 14.30
Football League Trophy Final
BARNSLEY 3 (Dunkley 50og Fletcher 68 Hammill 74)
OXFORD UNITED 2 (O’Dowda 29 Hylton 76)
Att 59,230 @ Wembley Stadium
I’m fortunate in that I get to visit Wembley reasonably frequently. It fulfills both sides of my divergent footballing personality. On one hand I’m a traditionalist, for me Wembley is English football’s spiritual home, so when the stadium was rebuilt in situ it was the correct decision. I admit it may well have been entirely logical to build the national stadium in Birmingham, but….. Wembley, is… home isn’t it?
On the other hand, I’m aware that stadia have to be fit for purpose. To this day I watch footage of disasters such as those at Hillsborough and Valley Parade and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The new Wembley is a wonderful modern stadium, and as much as I loved the old stadium, my 80-year-old father could not have watched this game there.
And that’s just the start of my mixed feelings. The cup competition for the bottom two divisions of the Football League fundamentally doesn’t matter. For both finalists this could be seen as a fun day out without the result mattering too much, or so I thought.
I’m an Oxford United fan, and I was there on both of our previous visits to Wembley. In 1986 we beat QPR in the League Cup Final, and in 2010 we beat York City 3-1 in the Conference Play-off final. I watched both in a stage of near agony, on both occasions I was desperate for us to win, in 1986 because I couldn’t see us ever returning, and in 2010 because there wasn’t at Oxford fan who wasn’t absolutely sick to death of being exiled from the Football League.
But the Football League Trophy, or the JPT if you’d prefer, is different isn’t it? Dad, I and girlfriend Robyn took a coach organised by my local pub The Masons’ Arms, in Headington Quarry. We loved it and Dad caught up with people he hadn’t seen in years. It was almost as if we transported the Quarry to Wembley. Robyn greatly enjoyed herself; she’s a Bristol City season ticket holder so had watched her team win the trophy last season en route to promotion.
We got there, I wheeled Dad into his spot by the half way line, read the excellent programme and tried to convince myself. I told myself that Barnsley are a good side in League 1, while we ought to be promoted we’re a League 2 team without several key players. As long as we weren’t disgraced, and Dad was okay I thought I’d be satisfied. I repeated the mantra, “Promotion is the main thing.”
Of course I failed to convince myself, and in the end went through the agonies in precisely the same way as on the other occasions. This time, perhaps as expected we came off second best, but I was proud of every single hero in yellow and blue as they glumly climbed the steps to the Royal Box at the end. What is it about your team that makes you love them more when they gloriously fail?
We took the inevitable age to exit the car park ( I still don’t care, I still want the national stadium here) I read the programme three times! Eventually we got back to Oxford, went out for a meal, then at 10.30pm I dropped off Robyn at Didcot station for her train back to Bristol. The train stopped, and 20-or-so Oxford United fans got off, still singing.
As much as promotion is more important I did wonder what they’d have been like, if against the odds, we’d have actually won the thing?