It’s easy to be drawn into the idea that the blame for a problem is everyone else’s fault, or worse, that a problem is so normal you no longer recognise it as a problem, it’s just how it is. If you have no concept of what good looks like, you accept that what you have and that’s where you stay.
Saturday’s fan forum confirmed something to me that I didn’t realise I had an opinion about. It’s time to leave the Kassam Stadium.
A vision isn’t about wild unspecific ambition; it’s about painting a picture of a future state which takes you out of your existing state and sets you on a path to something else. The club said they’re ‘actively considering’ a move; which doesn’t go far enough for me. To actively consider something, says that we’re thinking that we might think about it. A vision should disambiguate that statement – something like; we don’t see the club being at the Kassam in ten years time.
We are in an abusive relationship with Firoz Kassam. While constantly dangling the carrot of a better future – the sale of the ground to the right people – he punishes us with punitive rents and court battles. He paints a picture that we should be grateful to him for first saving the club and then giving us a new home and, to some extent, we have grown to believe all this. It is true, he did save us and give us a new ground, but for nearly 20 years, he’s been mean and spiteful. Our mindset is that he looks after us, so if we look after him, he’ll be happy. Even if, in reality, we’re not happy and even though there is nothing we can do to make him happy.
After such a long time, we have to accept there’s little prospect of anything changing. So it’s time to take control; and the first step is to say that the Kassam Stadium is no longer in our future vision.
This is not to say that any move is imminent, or that a sale cannot be achieved, but it breaks us out of the idea that after 20 years of this behaviour, Firoz Kassam is going to turn up one day in a collaborative mood ready to make a deal. There has been no evidence of that happening in the past, therefore, why should we plan on the basis that it might happen in the future?
Kassam might simply shrug his shoulders, he can always build houses on the land and make a lot of money from the site. It takes a special lack of empathy to be a slum landlord. He’s right, of course, it is his life, his money and his land. But we don’t need to exist to serve him.
The club has existed in this state for too long, even some diehards on the phone-in talked about ‘good times’ at the Kassam, but in seventeen years, there are precious few and those typically result from the exhaustible generosity of owners – Ian Lenagan when we got promoted from the Conference, and Darryl Eales when we got promoted from League 2. Those successes weren’t brought about by the stadium, in the way The Manor played its part in our successes of the 80s and in 1996. They happened in spite of where we were playing. Even when the ground is full of colour and noise, you can see if the ball has hit your car in the car park like we’re a non-league team. If Kassam had any empathy – or any long term vision of us as a successful club which he could benefit from – he’d have finished the stadium and developed it in line with modern football. He doesn’t, as long as we give him money, he won’t take us to court. It’s no way for us to live.
There is likely to be an explosion of investment as the Cambridge to Oxford expressway is developed; football has always been popular, but it’s now mainstream, middle class and acceptable. It seems absurd that Oxford’s football club is such an outlier in the city’s entertainment landscape. If you live around the city, the local club is hardly a place to take the family for a fun day out.
Incidentally, I liked Jerome Sale’s suggestion that the club’s nickname should change to The Manors; the U’s is a terrible nickname anyway, and it would reflect a time when we were part of something bigger. Bringing the club and city together, as Tiger has alluded to, has to be part of the vision.
It’s difficult to think that Karl Robinson is part of the grand vision for the club, no manager or player is, or should be. Most don’t last more than a couple of years, so they’re a chapter in the story rather than the story itself.
He didn’t have a good day, of course; he was the first manager to admit that the ground was poor. The negative tone seemed to seep into the afternoon, which was cold and miserable. The performance was familiar – plenty of chances, lots of corners, very little that lifts you out of your seat. We were beaten by a team that was simply more efficient and organised.
We played like Robinson’s sideline persona – all energy and no discipline. For the first goal – and the incorrect suspicion that it was offside – he looked up to the gantry in the South Stand wanting to get confirmation either way from those filming the game. He even tried to get the fourth official to refer the decision as if it were some kind of VAR system. It was ridiculous, but Robinson was caught up in the moment and didn’t seem to be thinking straight.
Afterwards he seemed particularly downbeat, he’d encouraged the team not to push it, but they hadn’t responded. Perhaps they’re more influenced by his arm waving than by his words. I think he’s a better manager than he’s currently showing, but he seems to be overwhelmed with his emotions at the moment. Ludicrously high on the field, childlike and sulky off it.
He’s right, we don’t have the players to naturally simplify our style – Marcus Browne being the most obvious – but Robinson’s own actions can’t be helping. Players are trying hard to make things happen, but it’s their lack of organisation, discipline and clear headedness – the on-pitch equivalent of referring to non-existent VAR – which is causing the problems. The excuses he’s finding, from the stadiums to the injuries to the decisions, will seep into the minds of his players. It’s not down to them, it’s down to bad luck; something intangible that they can’t control. Like the stadium situation, it’s time to own the problem.