All hail The Normal

Last week was a strange one; I was sitting waiting to get on a plane to Rotterdam when I checked my blog to see what, if anything, was happening. There was something happening; I had eight comments about my views on Luton Town. Nobody normally comments on my blog unless they’re from another team and they want to abuse me.

The post wasn’t not exactly anodyne, but it was genuine. I have a  visceral, only semi-logical dislike for Luton Town. But, perhaps I should have known better. I turned my phone to flight-safe mode and pondered for an hour what to respond with. I fought a reasonable rear guard action against a growing number of comments accusing me of spitefulness and more. Apparently it was picked up by a local Luton tabloid who considered my comments newsworthy.

The conference I was flying to was a bizarre. The Chinese won (and for that, I mean bought) an award for being Chinese, a man described the ‘competence of endurance’ through a protracted story about how, as a 53-year-old working early shifts on an oil rig climbing up and down a ladder all day really took it out of you. Lots of people told me how important they were, how important their work was and how many other people, who similarly said how important they are, they knew.

Eventually I left the conference centre and sat down outside a coffee shop and yearned for a bit of normal – to get home to family, away from restaurant food, away from the self-served and self-important. I looked at my diary, a couple of normal meetings back in the office, then a normal league game against Newport on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, back home, the rain sleeted down; my daughter trotted over halfway through football training with a big smile on her face but no feelings in her fingers. It was a good moment; in the past she might have crumbled, but this was what it was all about. She was beginning to get football, the joy in its misery.

Autumn was here, grey skys, chill air, rain. I’ve said before how football fans are people of the gloaming; we don’t do t-shirts and shorts well. Tans and shirt sleeves don’t work in English football grounds. Autumn and winter, wrapped up in coats, is when we finally awaken.

On the radio Michael Appleton talked about never losing his rag and never taking a step back. He was referring to The Principles, the vaguely threatening value-set imported into the club by the new regime. It followed the revelation at the Fans’ Forum that Plan B was Plan A – or that there was no Plan B, there were just The Principles. We were also told to judge the regime by its actions, apparently oblivious to the fact that its actions to date have been largely ineffective. It’s felt less like a football club recently, more like we’re part of an ideological experiment.

The lead through Collins was slightly fortuitous, but just about deserved The sending-off of Tyrone Barnett may well have been a blessing. His first booking was deserved, but ultimately a punishment for his incompetence at tackling as much as any malice, the second seemed to have no merit whatsoever. Appleton lost his rag, throwing a water bottle across his technical area at the booking of Carlton Morris shortly after Barnett had departed. He then took a step back, choosing to ditch The Principles and fight for the points; we would stick with one up front and attack on the break, if we could.

It was dogged and gritty, but it was normal. The Principles were still there, we passed neatly out of defence, through midfield and attacked where we could, but they didn’t get in the way of The Normal.

Despite what they might say, fans will always value results and effort over style, and that showed in the way the fans got behind the team rather than sitting back waiting to be entertained. We can match raw effort from the stands, we can’t help pass the ball around. The final whistle came, our first win on a Saturday at home for eight months, and suddenly it felt a bit more normal, and that felt good.

For me, a little bridge was built, particularly towards Michael Appleton. We’re not a showcase for his coaching principles, we’re a football club that wants to win games. He seems like a nice guy, and I worry that he’s took nice, too much of a theoretician in the art of coaching. Is he faced with jeopardy to focus on results? For once, it looked like he wanted the fight, he took on the fourth official, he was animated on the touchline, he valued the three points over The Principles. If he can keep that going, then maybe we’ll get somewhere after all.  

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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