Swindon coming… Don’t believe the hype?

Everything about this close season seems to have had the smell of the epic about it. The signings, the tour, the stupendous goal by Alfie Potter in the win over Birmingham. But nothing has been more epic than the run up to the A420 derby.

Yes, there’s been always been a rivalry, and yes, it’s often ugly, and yes, it was always the highlight of any season, but that’s nothing compared to how this match-up is being billed.

In the old days, people didn’t get up at 5am to queue for tickets. I don’t remember that ever happening for any game. People didn’t even talk about it for months in advance. They got on with their lives.

Who’s stoking all this? It’s over 10 years since we met as equals when many of the most active Oxford (and Swindon) fans were just children. What is their reference point for the rivalry? Just because they’re ‘supposed’ to have bitter rivals? There’s little tangible to cling to, and yet the rivalry is now quite beyond any that previously existed. Perhaps the lack of engagement has created a void to be filled.

Something has changed. The club wouldn’t stoke it up, they evidently don’t have to and they’re usually at pains to play down these things. We’re probably more confident of a win than we ever have been – perhaps we’re even a little deluded about how easy it will be. Are they in crisis? Possibly, but let’s not assume so. Can we possibly sustain this level of nervous energy for another month?

Maybe it’s something about having to sell tickets during the close season. We’ve got nothing else to think about, queuing at 5am is just a substitute for the match day experience. It may just be the impact of the internet, we can maintain constant contact with our Swindon foe, sustaining reductive arguments over months and months. How were rivalries sustained in the old days? Did fans write each other vitriolic letters?

I’m not going. I didn’t even try to get a ticket. You hear of Celtic and Rangers fans that hate Auld Firm games because they’re just full of hate and misery. A win is a relief, defeat just depressing. I’m a bit like that, especially the away fixture.

My experience of Swindon away has always been a dreary affair. I remember being shepherded into a playing field or park after one game so the police could contain the fighting. Another was blighted by racial abuse. And, of course, we lose. We always lose.

As much as I love the prospect of big games, and derbies, and even an away win against Swindon, there’s so little joy in my Swindon past, that I’m struggling to comprehend quite why everyone is just so excited about it.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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