Perhaps it was just fatigue brought on by Friday’s office Christmas party, a night which inverts the world’s fundamental structures by giving power to the brainless – dividing the world between those who like to sway self-conciously to Abba and those, with the power of rational thought and opposable thumbs, who don’t. Perhaps it was just that and a month of organising and then moving house. But whatever it was, as I walked up to the Kassam on Saturday, I could hear the familiar strains of Use Somebody by Kings of Leon playing out and it felt kinda’ old.
When it was first introduced at the Kassam in 2009, it was symbolic of our resurgence under Chris Wilder. Now rather than anthemic and uplifting, it sounds a little tired. Last season it seemed fitting that it was part of our pre-match canon; recounting the enduring spirit of, and reward for, an epic promotion season.
Last year’s Bad Run (BRI) was confirmation of how difficult life in the Football League can be. There was some concern that Chris Wilder wasn’t up to it, alongside the likes of Constable and Wright, but there was a general acceptance that league football is and should be hard – a kind of self flagellation. When the run was emphatically smashed at Chesterfield it was proof that the Oxford spirit, so perfectly captured in the soaring chorus of Use Somebody, will always win out.
Something is different post- Bad Run 2 (BRII), the breaking of the run was no new dawn, just a bloody grind against Morecambe. The ‘return to form’ win against Northampton had a more pragmatic feel about it. This is because playing Northampton is no longer treated like we’re meeting an old friend, they’re a team we’re expecting to beat if we’ve got any ambition of promotion. Which we have, no longer a momentous soaring ambition – a magical story of redemption and resurrection – more a serious, let’s get down to work ambition.
Last year we were hopeful of promotion, but more than anything, we were glad to be back and playing good football. Relegation back into the Conference was always a lingering fear, even when things were going well. This year, thoughts of relegation are non-existent, mid-table safety is not acceptable, promotion is expected, not just hoped for.
As a result, Use Somebody feels like it’s from a by-gone age of wide-eyed naivety. In this more pragmatic time, its swooping refrain is representative of a dumb less wizened time. Perhaps we’re beginning to see that League 2 doesn’t represent the promised land as was enthusiastically proclaimed post-Wembley. League 2 is a mere stepping stone to something bigger, where we belong is not in the football league, it’s at the top end of the football league.
I’m not sure this is altogether a healthy state. Ambition is important, it keeps complacency at bay. But, I enjoyed last season, there was a freshness to it. Everything good that happened was greeted with rapture, failure was greeted with a comforting arm around the club. Now it’s getting a bit dour; we walk away from a win against Northampton with a firm handshake of a professional job well done. Fitting, perhaps, that the club have chosen Kasabian’s Club Foot as the music to come out to. It’s a ballsy, driving, serious about being good and since it was adopted by Sky; corporate as hell.
Successful teams drive out risk. They buy when they’re to the top, they manipulate games and competitions to minimise the risk of failure, they don’t seem to enjoy themselves a whole heap. Sometimes it seems more exciting to avoid failure than to succeed. But, we do want to succeed on the pitch, and sadly, I guess we’ve got to be professional about it. We shouldn’t, however, forget that a win against Northampton is actually something to be celebrated, not just acknowledged or expected.