Feed the fans and the rest will follow

Oxford United’s first ever tweet said “Testing to see if anyone spots we are here.” It was a typical first tweet of the the time which was populated mostly by techie, marketing and media types; early adopters who tried this stuff out with no real expectation as to whether it would take off or not. The club adopted the handle ‘OUFClive’; it was probably the best they could come up with on a quiet afternoon, a decision made with little consideration to social media strategies or such piffle.

Followers began to notice that, when read quickly, the ‘Clive’ bit stuck out. It became a running joke that the club’s Twitter account was actually someone called Clive. ‘Clive’ played along; he became our mate at the football. Even the top brass at the club got involved with Kelvin Thomas once playing the role of Clive for a pre-season game in the US.

Then, recently, without warning, the club changed its handle to OUFCOfficial. There was consternation; Clive, our mate at the football, became ‘official’; and as we know, nothing in football that is ‘official’ is any good – referees, police, stewards.

It’s been suggested that it was changed for the club to appear more professional. A hashtag was introduced; #together; which, in the current climate seems a bit passive aggressive to me. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, that sort of thing. Context is everything; if the club had used the hashtag #believe during the Malcolm Boyden campaign in 2009, I would have been on board. Ultimately, these things work when they reflect how you feel rather than tell you how to feel. I did ‘believe’ in 2009, I don’t really feel ‘together’ in 2015.

Clive was a rare piece of fan-driven PR that worked well, and the club’s drive for so called professionalism wiped it out. Football clubs, particularly in the lower leagues need to recognise and capitalise on the wonkiness of football clubs not try to eradicate it to present a facade of credibility.

With every new regime or manager, history tends to get wiped out and everything starts again. Apart from in the fans, of course, we treasure the past. Successive manager’s have vocally criticised those who are nostalgic, but it’s a key driver for why we turn up each week; we want to try and recreate or build on the magic of the past that has made us supporters in the first place. If it were a wholly logical decision based on the quality of the service being provided, our crowds would be so low the club would be able to phone everyone to check if they were coming each week.

This isn’t just romantic whimsy, there’s money to be had in nostalgia-porn; on Saturday I went into the club shop, I had an itch to spend some money, I’ve no idea why. I couldn’t find anything but generic polyester leisurewear. I’ve been looking for a copy of the 2010 Wembley DVD for ages, but nothing, what about a t-shirt with some oblique in-joke? I would buy something that said, for example, ‘Right side for life’ or ‘Ford, Elliot, Gilchrist, Robinson’. There’s value in the past; it’s a rich seam with a lot of potential; the club should use it.

Then, I walked into the stadium to hear the iconically gravelly voice of Nick Harris commentating on a Peter Rhodes-Brown goal coming over the PA. There were others, a Beauchamp goal, Alfie Potter at Wembley. They played Use Somebody by Kings of Leon and If The Kids Are United by Sham 69. It’s a shame that Gary Glitter’s Do You Wanna Be In My Gang is kind of inappropriate these days, if they played it, I reckon I would have been able to smell the London Road. While, I don’t care much for any of those tracks musically, I don’t come to football to hear new music, they are songs which evoke memories of the past. As far as I can work out, it was a conscious effort to generate some momentum in the face of a potential relegation battle. I was stirred, it felt important to support the club at the moment, not because I like what’s happening at the moment, but because we need to preserve the club and its memories.

It was a masterstroke, we were immersed in the club; it’s history and it’s purpose. If they can sustain and build on it in the future, we may indeed come #together as a club.

But we still need to slot a successful team into this environment. It was probably fitting that the buzzier pre-match atmosphere drifted into the ether once the actual game got underway. It’s probably an appropriate metaphor that the club appears to be finding its feet while the team stumble. The crowd fell into such a silence it was possible to hear the players shouting at each other from the South Stand Upper. It was scrappy and uncomfortable, the application was there, but we still lack quality.

The win was both needed and welcomed, but it didn’t suggest any kind of tuning point in our fortunes. Like a recovering alcoholic who just needs a quiet night in rather than an evening in the pub resisting the optics behind the bar, we needed a normal, comfortable, home win like that as a reminder that we could do it. It was important in that respect. All in all, it confirmed my suspicion that while our league position is deeply uncomfortable, there are just about enough teams in the division who are notably poorer. Despite our woes, relegation shouldn’t be a threat. Nobody is ‘too good to go down’, but avoiding relegation is in our hands. The problem is that while there are six or seven teams notably worse than us, there are still way too many that are notably better.

A good day, with signs of hope, but still a lot to do.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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