The palpable sense of entitlement; something I thought we’d cleansed ourselves of during three years in the Conference, is returning.
We’re four scrappy, intense, ugly games from the play-offs. Another two from Wembley. And another one from League 1.
And yet, after two defeats and the last minute draw against Torquay on Monday, people are hurumphing that, even if we do make the play-offs, it is, as one person put it on Radio Oxford, just papering over the cracks.
Or, put another way, even with promotion still achievable, even if we do go up, it won’t have been done in the right way.
Apparently, it’s not the Oxford way to scrap our way to success. It’s just not very becoming to be dragging our bodies over the line, despite having a squad picked apart by injuries and suspensions.
Yes, there are credible arguments to have about discipline and levels of fitness, or the wisdom of signing 36 year old defenders or relying so much on James Constable’s goals. But none of these discussions are for now.
The solutions offered on Monday included Ian Lenagan ‘putting his hand in his pocket’ and Chris Wilder not relying so much on loanees. Both arguments are as unjust as they are pointless. Of the top seven, only Torquay have less loanees and in between transfer windows Chris Wilder has limited options when it comes to improving his team. And Ian Lenagan has put his hand in his pocket, investing another £200,000 in the squad this year. But, quite rightly, he is not going to bet the farm on getting promotion.
The desire to create the perfect club, whilst still in the midst of a very good season, is a pointless distraction.
Adam Chapman, whose confidence and influence is surging to the fore as the games get more tense and macabre, summed up the mood in his interview post-Torquay. Rather than being incarcerated amongst the wretches of society, wracked with the guilt of killing a man, he’s playing football with a chance of getting to Wembley and having a laugh trying out new things with Asa Hall. The joie de vivre with which those two approach games is been evident in their fantastic performances of late.
I doubt that Michael Duberry, 19 years a professional and probably no more than 13 months from never playing professionally again, is thinking that he’ll forgo this season’s push for a more aesthetically pleasing run some time in the future.
And I doubt that Scott Rendell, having experienced unimaginable tragedy, is thinking that we should give up a opportunity for brief, fleeting, visceral joy to serve some self-important serious football idyll.
No, we shouldn’t ignore the underlying weaknesses in the club, but, for now, failure is not missing the play-offs; failure is not relishing the battle.
Just over six years ago we played Darlington; I drove into the car park and found a space in the row nearest the Oxford Mail stand. It was 20 minutes before kick-off and there were plenty of other spaces I could have chosen. It was cold, beyond my ticket, I had long given up spending money in the stadium out of apathy rather than protest. I sat and listened to the radio before walking into the Oxford Mail stand with five minutes to spare. We played with four centre-backs, and no style, Neville Roach and Mark E’Beyer were substitutes. We lost 2-0 on our way, of course, to relegation.
Sometimes, before the bigger games, I quietly and jokingly lament the ease with which you could park during the latter Kassam years. Even though our parking remains Conference level as best, everything else about our situation has improved. At least we’re not doing a Darlington.
We’re not as slick a machine as we want to be, we’re not turning teams over with the effortlessness of The Glory Years. We’re a band of ragged desperadoes battling against the odds. It may not be The Oxford Way, but it is this season’s way. Those without the appetite for the fight might find more satisfaction in following a club seeking some unachievable perfection whilst drifting from one meaningless mid-table season to another.