It started as a fixture that pitted the big boys of Oxford against the plucky amateurs of Wycombe. Eventually Wycombe became a barometer by which we could measure our decline; while they largely stood still we slipped and slipped.
If the previous four fixtures were the diagnosis of a terminal disease, the next four were the death itself. Over a period of two years we were managed by a convicted child molester, the South American Alex Ferguson and his army of shaman and a barely articulate non-league sergeant major. Oh dear.
Apparently we drew the fixture under Graham Rix in 2004, which was, again, live on Sky. I don’t remember anything about it; but that was what it was like around that time. By the time we entertained them at the Kassam for the first time on New Year’s Day we were into the Ramon Diaz farce. With the club suffering from a terminal disease, the arrival of Diaz was a palliative trip to Disney; a fantastical promise, which started with the arrival of new fangled training techniques (Tommy Mooney gushed about training with two balls), there was a thoroughly modern management team and a swathes of homesick disinterested teenage South Americans.
The game on New Year’s Day was notable for the sending off of Chris Hackett for violent conduct; a man less aggressive than Peppa Pig. A late Steve Basham goal gave us our first home win against Wycombe at the sixth attempt. The New Year, the new management regime, everyone left optimistic that the corner had been turned.
Of course, it hadn’t. The Diaz era descended into grand farce, results petered out and the relationship between Diaz’s team and Kassam disintegrated amidst rumours that one or the other had reneged on a pre-appointment deal relating to the sale of the club and ground. The closing game of the season saw the storming of the Kassam as Diaz’s team; fired after the penultimate game of the season, attempted to gain entry to the ground.
Before that final game, Brian Talbot was introduced as the club’s new manager, he mumbled something about double promotions and shuffled off to plan the grand resurrection. I was an Ipswich Town fan when I was really small and Brian Talbot was a member of their FA Cup winning team. I had a lot of empathy for him; he had also steered Rushden to promotion on a sea of money. He seemed like as good a solution as any. But then again, all Kassam’s appointments seemed like the solution at the time.
In the following August Wycombe returned to the Kassam with the defected Tommy Mooney partnering Nathan Tyson up front. Mooney had been a hero the year before having not only signed from Swindon, but also proving to be the best striker we’d had in years. He left after one season, it’s a sign of the state we were in that we were so accepting of his move.
We hung onto their coat tails as they ran us ragged. But we edged in front early on, conceded twice and then nabbed an equaliser through Dean Morgan (Who?). As is often the case, a decent result against a decent side gave hope of a good season. Form was moderate up until Christmas, Kassam sold Craig Davis to Verona, Chris Hackett to Hearts and prevented Lee Bradbury from playing so that he didn’t trigger and automatic contract renewal.
Like hibernating hedgehogs, we packed away our spikes for the season and settled down for a nice winter snooze. We snoozed our way through a 2-1 defeat at Adams Park with Yemi Odubade, a panic buy from Eastbourne who had run us ragged in a Cup replay a few weeks earlier, scoring his first goal. There was disillusionment about the club and management, and everyone decided that there was always next year and another rejuvenating managerial appointment around the corner. We won three more games all season and fell out of the league in a fog of complacency. Now Oxford were the little non-league fighters and Wycombe the established league club. How things had changed.