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Saturday 5th December 2009 ko 10.00

Oxford University Middle Common Room League- Cuppers Group A

CORPUS/LINACRE 13 (Beresford 46 85 Tyler 48 67 75 79 88 Lewis 58 Hunter 70 86 89 90 Brown 83)
UNIVERSITY 1 (Winning 77)

Att 1

Tonight’s tale is, in part, a retort to those who absolutely have to see a stand, or a rail, or whatever at any ground they visit. The corollary for that is that anything that doesn’t fit their requirements tends to be written off as “A Field.” For dear reader this the story of the ground that actually did become a field!

Within Oxford University’s collegiate football provision male football is separated into Junior Common Room (for undergraduates) and Middle Common Room for those taking postgraduate degrees- usually doctorates. For the groundhopper, the great advantage of the MCR League is that it takes place exclusively on Saturday mornings leaving plenty of time to find another game. Moreover the vast majority of the college grounds are only used for student football, so there’s no scope for ticking them off any other way.

And Corpus Christi College’s sports ground was one that you’d never find unless you either knew where it was, or in my case knew Andy James the referee! The ground is beyond one end of Whitehouse Road (you pass where Oxford City used to play on the way) then 1/4 mile down a track you’ll find a footbridge over the main Oxford to Didcot railway line. Beyond that bridge to left was Pembroke College’s ground and to the right Corpus Christi’s. The sign stating “Invited Guests Only” did amuse me- surely no-one would be there by accident!

As is often the case with Oxford’s college sports grounds there was an unworldly feel about the place. One hand you are less than a mile from the centre of Oxford, on the other if it hadn’t been for the players all you’d heard was the trains passing by. It was clear why being groundsman here, with a grace-and-favour flat in top of the pavilion was a sought-after position!

On a cold December day it was good to get the cool air into my lungs and feel the soft ground beneath my feet. It is part of my contrary soul that if I visit a large ground like, say Tottenham Hotpur’s I’ll want to do something at grass-roots straight afterwards!

Due to the lower numbers of post-graduate students when compared to undergraduates MCR teams do tend to be mergers of two colleges’ students, even if whenever I hear the word “Linacre” I tend to think of how Mick Channon used to pronounce Gary Lineker’s surname. Here, the combined site put a depleted University College side to the sword in front of a crowd of… well me!

But a year later the ground was gone. The reasons the college gave were two-fold, first was the high cost of maintaining the ground, and the second was the difficulty in getting an ambulance across the train tracks on the unmarked level crossing a couple of hundred yards on from the footbridge.

So the groundsman was given his cards, and notice to leave his flat but with access to the site this difficult and the Grandpont area being on floodplain the normal process of the land being sold for housing was impossible. Corpus now (and here’s an irony) share University’s ground along the Abingdon Road near the 4 Pillars Hotel, but what happened to the tucked away ground over the footbridge?

The college leased the site to West Oxford Community Renewals for the princely sum of a jar of honey a year, and they turned the sports ground into the Hogacre Common Eco Park where the pitches are now an orchard, coppice and a community allotment.

That all happened back in 2010, and yes I did manage to tick off Pembroke’s ground a few months later. The eco park is still in situ, and while I’m sure the new facility is a far better use of some problemic land, I’ll always hanker after the place’s original use. Whatever your requirements for a football ground, this was a lovely place to watch a game.