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Saturday 19th December 2020 ko 15.00

Hellenic League Division One East

LONG CRENDON 1 (Warwick 54)

WALLINGFORD TOWN 2 (Dean 43 Silkstone 85)

Att 36 at Oxford City FC

Entry £5

No Programme

You could say I was at this game because of Santa Claus! As you may know I’m part of a pub quiz team based at the Masons Arms in Oxford. Each Christmas we have a meal out at a local gastro-pub and exchange gifts in a “Secret Santa” arrangement. Covid of course had meant that meal out was impossible, but we decided to do the Secret Santa gift exchange, and I offered to play Santa for the afternoon and do the collections and deliveries from the doorsteps of our homes. The idea was afterwards to go and watch either of two Oxfordshire Senior League games. The first was Bicester-based Bure Park with Oxford Irish (based at Rose Hill Community Centre) as back-up. Both were 2pm kickoffs. 

But the deliveries took too long to get to Bure Park, and when I arrived at Rose Hill there were no signs of life. It found out later that the game had been switched to the Oxford Academy but no one had seen fit to update either “Full Time” or the league’s Facebook page. So with little time left for alternatives, I needed a floodlit 3pm kickoff , and the one available involved two old friends.

Wallingford Town and I go back a long time, right back to the time of the first North Berkshire League Hop when the then AFC Wallingford closed out the 2011 event. Over the years if I needed a team to play at an odd time, Wallingford were the team to ask, who could forget the the Wally Bus or even their goalkeeper Steve Eatwell being knocked out at Burghclere?  They were even around at a proud moment for me personally, when Wally Reserves won the North Berkshire League Cup final in 2015 and I was honoured to present the trophy to future chairman Simon Cowlard. 

It’s a little less personal with Long Crendon, I first encountered them in 2012 when I watched them ship 21 goals in 2 Oxon Senior league games, one at Long Crendon Rec’ , the other at the more unusual Cutteslowe Park Lower . They shifted downwards to the Aylesbury & District League League soon after, so I was rather surprised to see them enter the Hellenic League Division 2 East in 2017. There had clearly been a massive change in regime and with the club having moved to Oxford City’s Court Place Farm in order to facilitate promotion, we managed to get them to play one final game back at the Rec’  for the 2019 Hellenic Hop before promotion. It attracted the hoppers, including the gent that doesn’t count nil nil draws, with predictable if hilarious results!

What I’d completely failed to take into account was that I was attending what is now considered an elite venue as  play in the National League South. As such I was none-too-gently reminded I needed to be wearing a mask by a rather officious young man mid-way through the first half. I understand the reasons, but for a crowd of roughly 40? It wasn’t as if social distancing was anything like an issue was it?

That hints as to how far Court Place Farm has come as far as a stadium since its opening in 1993. Back then it was clearly a council-owned stadium built on a low budget, but gradually its been improved. While it still lacks a “Signature” main stand, at least the place is now painted Oxford City blue rather than the rather utilitarian green of the past. 

On one level it is an odd choice for Long Crendon to base themselves, it’s a rather distant 14 miles from home with Thame United’s ASM Stadium only a mile and a half away from the village. I assume City’s 3G pitch is the attraction, but a quirk of this fixture was that with Long Crendon being in Buckinghamshire was in Covid Tier 4, but Oxford in Tier 2 meaning that that Crendon’s exile was the only reason this game could take place!

The problem was that at no point did it feel like home. Apart from the warm welcome at the entrance there was nothing to tell you what you were watching. There were no drinks, food, programme, tannoy; anything to allow Crendon to put their stamp on things. The game took time to get going, with the second half being a far better spectacle than the first. Wally just about deserved their win, but neither side will need to look over their proverbial shoulders this season.

But you do wonder how sustainable it all this for friendly Crendon? They obviously couldn’t stay at the Rec’ and progress but is this the future for them? I hope that their plans for a suitable Step 6 compliant ground are progressing, this was an oddly soulless experience, and that’s not the Long Crendon I know.