Well, at least when it came to killing the season, it was done cleanly. If we’d left Bury with one of those ‘encouraging points’ the juggernaut of belief would have dragged on another week, another month, perhaps all the way to Shrewsbury and the last game of the season.
Two years ago, with the play-offs dangling just out of reach, James Constable soared to head home a 94th minute winner against Wrexham and I started to think that there was some kind of fatalistic black magic going on. A few weeks later, fuelled by the ‘Believe’ campaign and blinded by whimsical thoughts of destiny, Northwich came to the Kassam and slapped us in the face with something very cold and very wet.
Reflecting after that game, it was obvious how fanciful thoughts of the play-offs had been. Average early season form, the five point deduction, all logic dictated that we were set to finish in meaningless upper mid-table. Which we did.
At the end of every Premier League season, Alan Hansen, Gary Linekar and Mark Lawrenson smugly talk up the champions as the worthy winners as though it was evident all season who would win. And yet, during the season, they talk about crucial games, squeaky bum time, mind games and key decisions. Manchester United don’t win titles because they’re good a key times, it’s because they’re good all the time.
Same with England in the recent Cricket World Cup, as they scraped past one nation after another the analysis was that perhaps this was a sign. Once they were finally found wanting, the analysis was conclusive that England were rubbish and tired throughout. The 2010 World Cup was the same – a) World Cup winners always start with unconvincing performances b) we’re going to smash the Germans which will provide us with impetus to go all the way c) Lose d) We’re shit, we were always shit and we have deep systemic flaws in both our professional game and national psyche.
Perhaps it’s a media conspiracy to keep us watching; perhaps it’s our perpetual desire to believe there is more to life than science. We want a world where inevitable things aren’t inevitable. We constantly want to ignore what we’re seeing, and believe that there is something bigger and better yet to emerge.
Ever since the Internet became an integral part of the football experience, every Oxford game has been designated ‘massive’. There is no situation, which can’t be understated in term of its massiveness. Even last year’s dead rubber final league game against Eastbourne was ‘massive’ because it would give us momentum going into the play-offs.
And yet, the massiveness of the Bury game was somewhat more muted. There was no huge pilgrimage up north. Most, I think, knew that the season’s inevitable end was to briefly flirt with the play-offs before dropping back to the upper reaches of the mid-table. Now the play-offs seem out of reach, most seem reasonably satisfied we’ll finally succumb to what has been in the runes of the season throughout.
There is much look forward to – Wycombe and Chesterfield should both prove entertaining afternoons. But perhaps more is the fact that there isn’t a ball breaking play-off campaign to negotiate or another autopsy needed on a failing squad, this season is simply a job well done.