Still fighting. Just.

When we first moved to the Kassam, my seat was at the back of the East Stand with the proper fans. Next to me was a bloke who came with his girlfriend. She was the kind I might have fancied at primary school; a pretty tomboy who could play football with me. I fell a little bit in love with her giggle, which was playful and girly. A chink of light in the greyness.

Under Ian Atkins, in 2004, we were on a promotion charge until he and Firoz Kassam worked out that they were too similar to be in the same room together. Graham Rix came in and rather than try to steer our listing ship to shore he decided, with 8 games to go, that a revolution was needed. We capitulated spectacularly. Having failed to win in the previous six games, we faced Cambridge United. It was 8 years ago to this very weekend, we needed a win to maintain a feint hope of the play-offs. A must win game for a team being strangled by it’s lack of momentum. Sounds familiar?

Statistically speaking; the weather was typical of the time of year; grey and cold, not the late spring sun that is supposed to symbolise the final games of the season. We laboured throughout, burdened by an inappropriate playing philosophy and our own expectations. Cambridge scored 15 minutes from time, but we hit back two minutes later. This burst of excitement failed to ignite the Exocet required to fire us into the play-offs. The game continued to peter out as Cambridge defended what they had and we lacked the creativity to break them down.

Then, from nothing Jefferson Louis rattled one in. The gloom lifted, it was back on; me and the bloke next to me glanced towards each other and our eyes met. We’d barely talked in two years, but for that moment, it seemed appropriate to hug. Perhaps it was on. If we could sneak the play-offs then anything could happen. I could hear his girlfriend squealing with excitement on the other side of him. If we could fudge promotion, then we could regroup in the summer as the fully re-modelled Rix vision of the Ajax of middle class England. Perhaps things were going to turn out alright in the end.

They equalised 60 seconds later. Me and the bloke next to me were barely out of each others’ arms when everyone fell silent. The gloom descended, the game petered out and the play-offs were beyond us. This was real; no fantasy, no spirit.

The season ground to dust; when we returned the following August, the girl reappeared with poorly died hair, a broken leg and what I can only describe as the blank sunken eyes of a heroin addict. Occassionally she laughed in her light and playful way. But not as often and with little life.

This season seems to be heading the same way; as much as we fight it, we look set to fall short. No end of positive social media marketing can change the direction we’re travelling in. The fans tried to turn out in large numbers, but didn’t quite make it, we tried to be frenziedly excited, but it was too cold, the players tried to reverse the momentum of recent weeks, but it was just too much.

Our goalkeeping situation appropriately sums up our season; at our strongest we look a division above, when adversity hits, we still seem to have the resiliance to battle on. But this year, throughout the year, fate decided to exact another, heavier, blow. Whatever caused Ripley to flap so hopelessly at their first goal was probably just the winds of inevitability blowing the ball into the net.

I maintain that it is circumstance, not incompetence that has got us into this position. We have improved on last year, and been a victim of a relentless procession of injuries to key people at key times. The belief that we should have a couple of spare 20 goals a year strikers and a ready made replacement for the likes of Leven is not reasonable. We’d be able to carry someone like Dean Morgan if the 7 or 8 key players we’d lost to injury had been fit. Another season offers, as always, the opportunity to refine further; cleanse a little, repair damaged bones, but continue to move forward. I still expect us to do so.

We go to Port Vale in hope, but not expectation but in some ways it is a blessed relief that the likely end is near. I’m tired of fighting the tidal wave of inevitability. If the miracle happens, then perhaps it’ll spark us back into life, but I doubt it.

Wilder in. *raises weary fist of defiance*

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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