In a round about way, I was talking to some friends about mortality on Saturday night. Specifically we were saying how we hope our children find something they can enjoy into adulthood. It’s easy to give up on things you do for no other reason than fun when life’s tedious priorities take over. We pondered whether the couple across the road, deep into their 80s, ever regret the time they’ve wasted on trivialities as they face the reality that every day could conceivably be their last. If we were more aware of our mortality, would we give up the things we love so easily?
My sister gave up singing for the best part of 30 years before joining a choir recently. Singing, which she had done at school, was trivial compared to her job, family and bills and so it simply fell off the radar. Someone suggested she might like to join a local group and it turned out that she loved it so much she realised that she’d grossly under-estimated the value of simple enjoyment.
Someone once described me as having an ‘impenetrable hobby’; she couldn’t fathom the appeal of following a football team, less so one whose normal state was best described as ‘failure’. She is entirely right on one level; supporting Oxford is an illogical nonsense, a waste of time and I should really focus on more doing more valuable things. On the other, it is the whole point of life itself.
Supporting Oxford is a golden thread, not only from childhood to adulthood, but also between different people who have chosen a similar path. We share a particularly esoteric collective consciousness built on layers of experience that means nothing to most, but everything to some. It is not life itself, but it does allow us to have a purpose, of sorts, to cling to.
To outsiders, our trip to Charlton was a meaningless Saturday afternoon fixture between two meaningless teams. But, for us there was a significance; this thing we are so invested in didn’t look good; no manager, debutants all over the pitch, three players who had been on the verge of leaving, poor form, one striker replaced by another striker who was replaced by a 18 year-old winger playing his third league game. Everything seemed to be heading in the wrong direction, which was confirmed by going first 0-1 down, and then 1-2 with a minute to go.
Then Todd Kane popped up with an equaliser and Ryan Ledson drove home his 94th minute winner, etching himself permanently into our collective memory. Results like Saturday’s are what bind us together. It reminded me of The Miracle of Plainmoor in 2011 when Chris Wilder made eight changes to his starting line-up and recalled Jack Midson from a loan deal days after he implied his time at the club was at an end. The result, a 4-3 away win, was little short of a miracle with Midson scoring a hat-trick. In the last minute Steve MacLean stood on the ball and saluted creating another one of those iconic moments.
I’m pleased that Ledson’s had an opportunity to make his mark on the club. Had he left for Preston, history would have judged him differently. As much as fans have warmed to him, until Saturday he didn’t a moment that defined him as an Oxford player, the 94th minute at The Valley gave him just that moment.
It seems that the club and Ledson have reached a mutually acceptable understanding of their relative roles and positions. Naturally, the club needs the player or the money, whichever it views as more valuable. Ledson will want to play at the highest level he can and earn as much as possible before he retires. It’s a precarious balance which can easily tip into one where the club are seen as enslaving the player or the player as a mercenary. Having missed out on a move, he could have skulked around until the summer, but it seems, for now, he accepts his role is to play as well as he can. Presumably, barring something hideous, he’ll leave over the summer with our best wishes.
It seems to be the case for Simon Eastwood as well, a move to Barnsley would have been ideal for him personally. However, it doesn’t seem to have troubled him that it didn’t happen. If the club can maintain stability when there is lots to destabilise it then it is in a healthier state than it appeared two weeks ago.
The contemporary model for a club is to have a robust infrastructure with a first team manager focussing on his specific first team role role. It brings more stability than when you have to transition from one Alex Ferguson all-encompassing style to another.
I hadn’t really seen it this way, but perhaps Pep Clotet tried too hard to change the ethos of the club by bringing in his own players and his own style. Team selection on Saturday suggests that Derek Fazackerley was bringing the club back to the core strategy which brought success under Michael Appleton. Personally, I’m not troubled by the speed at which we bring in a new manager given that Fazackerley is around to provide that steadying hand.