Should we blame the Olympics?

The Northampton defeat surely extinguished any lingering hopes of a play-off place. So, let the post-mortem begin. There are so many factors to consider from the pitch to the manager. But, let’s start big; let’s blame the Olympics.

I remember the closing ceremony of the Olympics last summer, I lost interest halfway through and flicked over to one of the temporary BBC Olympic channels in the forlorn hope that something would be on. For two weeks I’d watched late into the night everything from wrestling to basketball. Eventually channel each just ran out of sport and would shut down for the night. It was my favourite part of the Games. Just me and sports I didn’t know with countries I barely cared about. Often there’d be no commentary. There was something both epic and intimate about it, like watching the sunrise over Glastonbury Tor.

The next morning I’d switch on and each channel will be replenished with another full day of sport. I knew at the time, and before, that this was going to be a special time and that I should absorb as much as I could. During Euro 96 I’d been complacent about having a major tournament on our doorstep and generally missed out on the live experience.

As special as it feels at the time, it’s nothing in comparison to how it feels as time passes. Sometimes I transport myself back to days sitting in my shorts watching my new TV (bought especially); an eternal summer.

Looking back, I remember that same feeling after an FA Cup or World Cup final. The final whistle would blow, the trophy handed out, the interviews and then it would be over. I would carry on watching the news, which would tend to lead with the result of the game I’d just seen. The goals were shown but there was nothing new to be said. I went outside, to replay the game in the garden. I didn’t want it to end, but it did.

After the Olympics, this football season would always have something of the winter about it. It arrived apologetically at the conclusion of the Games like your mum picking you up from the school disco. Opening with the League Cup was the equivalent of an agreement that she’d park around the corner while you tried to snog the face off someone (not that this ever actually happened to me). As awful a prospect as it was; normal life, and with it football, needed to return.

Pre-season passed me by because Beth Gibbons mouthing ‘I love you’ to her dead mum after taking bronze in the Taekwando was the magic of life, not the signing of someone who previously played for Crawley. We had a new kit; the only Nike template we’d yet to use and was in fact yellow and black, not yellow and blue.

In some senses, the routine of going to games was a bit of a relief, like getting back from holiday and having beans on toast after two weeks of rich restaurant food.

At first it was good, there seemed to be a post-Olympic glow in our early season form. The big names were injured; Duberry, Whing and Leven, but we were still winning. This was the Olympic legacy – humble hard work winning out; good things happening to good people. We even turned the otherwise moribund Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 1st round into a sparkling spectacle; beating Swindon in the last minute.

It didn’t last of course; we started losing. The bleak winter descended and refuses to go away. Like blooming daffodils confused with the increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather, we haven’t coped with the changing of the seasons. An injury crisis; something that lasts for weeks, lasted a year. The Christmas period is usually a mid season celebration and the signal that we were turning  for home. But we didn’t play a league game at home from the 8th December to the 1st January. The grey wintery trudge of midseason started in September and  just won’t finish. On paper we’re six games from the summer; outside it feels like January.

The season basically needs putting out of its misery and after several attempts at clubbing it to death it seems, after the defeat to Northampton we’ve finally cleaved it’s head in. We haven’t been terrible; genuinely, we’ve been average and we’ll end up in an average position.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the post-Olympic football season has been a crushing disappointment. It’s a bit like being inspired by Bradley Wiggins only to find out that bikes are expensive, you look terrible in lycra and climbing hills is really bloody hard. The Olympics were amazing; too amazing. Suddenly everyone was expected to turn on the success module. All it would take is effort and dedication. Nobody said that you also needed world class coaching and enough funding to bail out Cyprus and still have enough left over to buy a Scalextric for Christmas.

I’m sure that those who are currently chasing promotions and titles, aren’t feeling underwhelmed by this season. But we’re a club which is already stoked with unreasonable expectations, chuck in an Olympic games and the whole thing blows apart. After the brightness of last summer, the gloom of winter is pretty hard to take.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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