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Tuesday 12th May 2021 ko 18:30

Oxfordshire Senior League Premier Cup Group Stage

BURE PARK 3 (Hallam 47 79 Chappell 83)

LAUNTON SPORTS 3 (Horn 16 30 Clark 52)

Att c65 at Pingle Field, Bicester

Free Entry

Anyone from Oxfordshire will be more than aware of the expansion of Bicester in the last couple of years. I remember Iain my regular companion on many of my Scottish jaunts booking a hotel in Bicester, and when I visited him I  thought, “This used to be fields a few months ago!”

The expansion has gone hand-in-glove with the expansion of the town’s major tourist attraction- the Bicester Village outlet shopping centre. In a matter of a few years, its become Oxfordshire’s number one tourist destination in a county that boasts the Oxford colleges and Blenheim Palace. For Chinese tourists it’s become the UK’s second-most popular destination- behind only Buckingham Palace! According to coach drivers I’ve spoken to, the form is to visit Bicester Village just before the flight back to China from Heathrow. I wonder what impression of our country they take home with them?

The site has been expanded to swallow up the Tesco that once was at the entrance, with the supermarket getting a larger site the other side of the A41. Even Bicester Town railway station was renamed Bicester Village in 2014 and the line through it doubled. The nearby level crossing is reckoned to be one of the busiest in the UK with the barriers down up to 50 minutes each hour!

So what has this done for football in Bicester? Well it’s not as positive as it could have been, mainly due to their being no Hellenic League club currently playing in the town. Bicester Town folded in 2011 due to a dispute with the Bicester Sports Association who owned their London Road ground. When the club reformed in 2015 they played out of Ardley – not Bicester. That version of Bicester Town folded in 2018.

No end of local clubs continued to rent London Road, but the ground never again saw football above local level. So when Bicester Village looked at expanding once again, there was no pressure on planning gain to provide a Step 6 compliant ground elsewhere. The ground will be vacated at the end of May and it will mean they’ll be no lack of sports fields and 3G facilities in Bicester but should a club have the team to progress to pyramid football, they’ll be nowhere for them to play.

Pingle Field illustrates the point nicely. Its adjacent to the old Bicester Town ground, with access via Old Place Yard. That said its far easier to park at Bicester Village and walk across one of the two footbridges over the brook. You walk to the pitch, see where Bicester Village is and will be and wonder if Pingle Field will be be selling discount clothes to tourists in the next few years.

There isn’t much here, a set of changing rooms and a wide expanse of grass, with plenty of room for several pitches. The site is where Bicester’s annual fair is staged and I note that the site is a registered Asset of Community Value and that the date for removal from the list is August this year. As such this ground hosts the top club in Bicester with Bure Park playing in the OSL’s top division and Bicester Hallions and Ashton Folly in Division One.

The OSL took the same view as many other leagues and declared their season null and void when it became obvious that they’d never be able to complete their fixtures. To give clubs who wanted it, some end of season football cup competitions have been introduced for each of the 3 divisions on a mini-league basis with the top four playing a straightforward knock-out competition afterwards.

This game saw visitors Launton needing a win to guarantee progression but for Bure Park, unable to qualify this was to be their last game of the season. They’d lost four points they’d gained by playing ineligible players in two games – the competition rules state that all players in these competitions have to have been registered with the league by the end of December. The result was that the game looked like an away banker looking at the league table, when it wasn’t if you looked a little more closely! That and let’s face it any local derby usually sends the form book flying anywhere!

Many will remember Launton Sports from their 4 season stint in the Hellenic League that ended in 2011. It wasn’t long, but I do remember them featuring in a Hellenic Hop game and the league forgetting to tell us they’d pulled out of being the visitors in another, in 2010 at Rayners Lane. They’ve played in the OSL ever since and for me are a side that probably are a big club at local level but would struggle if they found themselves back at Step 6.

You saw it here in microcosm. For the vast majority of this game this looked like a Launton win, a mixture of a goalkeeping howler, and some excellent passing and moving saw Launton enjoy a two-goal lead twice. But somehow they contrived to throw that lead away, odd when you consider what a win would have meant. But for the neutrals there it was a fine spectacle, and all credit to referee Alex Sargent for managing the game beautifully.

But as Robyn and I departed bound for that new Tesco, I couldn’t help but wonder where the next Step 6 club in Bicester will play? The town needs better than what it’s got.