Match wrap: Plymouth Argyle 2 Oxford United 3

The Christmas holiday offers a rare opportunity to catch the odd film or two. I’m not a great cinema goer, so I’m often behind the curve with the latest releases. This is a bit of an understatement, the other day I found myself watching the 22-year-old Deep Impact, one of those generic turn-of-the-millenium disaster flicks built entirely around its special effects budget.

Between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, Hollywood struggled to find a palatable enemy to fight. Where it was once the Russians, and before that The Nazis, there was nobody. At least after 9/11 they could turn their institutionally racist attentions to anyone of generically Middle Eastern extraction. 

With no real enemy to fight, their was on meteorites, tornadoes and non-specific alien life-forms. Things that would bring about the end to humanity, but wouldn’t offend or exploit anyone. Apart from women, of course, they didn’t really count back then.

These films open innocently; a dorky, but undeniably handsome young male star – let’s call him Sam – has an unhealthy interest in a subject relevant to the plot – meteorology, astronomy, geology, that kind of thing. They find something that the entire established scientific community have failed to spot; a dot on the moon is an invading alien army, a shrub falling over in the garden is a sure-fire sign there’s a fault in the earth’s crust which is about to split it in two.

The opening scenes establish Sam’s position in the social strata of his local High School. While putting his books away in his locker, he’s bullied by a couple of ‘jocks’ one of whom is probably called Brad. Brad’s girlfriend is with them, she’s kind and homely and probably called Jess. Jess seems desperately uncomfortable with the bullying; the confrontation over, she’s apologetic and smiles with weak reassurance.

If the shitshow that is 2020 was a disaster flick, then Sam Long is its unassuming breakout star. Long is the high school Regular Joe (or Sam) who seems to take great joy in simply being who he is. His unhealthy interest is in the subject of Oxford United. He’s been surrounded by jocks throughout his career; a series of players brought in from the outside to bully him out of the first team. Though there have been countless attempts to replace him, he’s seen them all off with his quiet resilience.

The arc of the film involves Sam trying to convince those in positions of influence that he’s discovered evidence of an imminent extinction level event. The priority, though, is first to convince Jess. Consuming his convolutedly argument with a PhD level comprehension, her heart melts and they fall instantly in love. With the stirring in their loins now satisfied, the newly consummated couple must focus on getting to the top of the institutional forces of government to avert disaster.

Long’s career has spanned seven years, fighting the club’s own institutional forces; five managers and three owners have had his destiny in their hands. All have been impatient for success and set about revolutionising their playing staff. Long has survived every turn; every attempt to replace him or send him out on loan, he’s battled the seas of change, and countless injuries, which could have drowned him. Battered and bruised, his spirit and steely resolve shines through.  

The end of the film sees Sam and Jess scrambling to save the earth. Society, faced by its seemingly inevitable end, is descending into chaos and anarchy. The grotesque failures of the establishment has left just one person capable of averting disaster – an unassuming teenager from a small town High School, obviously. The solution inevitably involves sparking a chain of events which are so linear, you might argue that they’ve been oversimplified for a mass-audience. It’s a long shot, but it might just work.

The final act of 2020 was against Plymouth on Tuesday, Long picked up the ball deep inside his own half, abandoning his admirable conservatism, he set off his own improbable chain of events. Lurching forward, thrusting deep into the mouth of his faceless enemy, he exchanged a pass with Sean Clare – one of the jocks brought in to bully him out of the team – now an admiring comrade. Beyond the point of no return, Long has no choice but to continue his journey into the beast; it’s now death or glory. No longer is he the dependable high school nerd, he’s the action hero saving humanity. Everyone looks on aghast as he picks up Clare’s pass inside the box to slide the ball past the Plymouth keeper into the net. It was a Long shot, and it just worked.

Has 2020, with all its thrills and spills, been a fable of our times? Meaningless escapism? Calculated genius? When Disney released The Force Awakens, George Lucas, who conceived the franchise, was dismissive of its reductive, crowd-pleasing plot, saying that his own Phantom Menace – a critical catastrophe – was a triumph in the Star Wars canon because of its state of the art CGI. 

Lucas’ genius was his innovation, not his storytelling. He was an experimental filmmaker, the original Star Wars trilogy broke new ground in terms of technique and special effects, it was almost fortuitous it also had a coherent story. If it hadn’t, it would have been written off as an indulgent folly.

If Long has been the on-screen star of the show, Karl Robinson seems to be the George Lucas football management. Set aside the fact we had two right-backs combining for the second goal, or that it followed a goal from our left-back, at one point in the first half our attack seemed to be made up entirely of defenders. There was a passage of play where Elliott Moore, was lolloping around in the Plymouth box waiting for a ball to be delivered into him. Even when the initial attack broke down, rather than racing back to resume his defensive duties, he simply waited while another attack developed down the left hand side. Whether it was madness or genius is anyone’s guess.

It’s all very exciting and when it works it can be magical, but this season seems to constantly teeter on the absurd. Long getting two yellow cards but no red just seemed to be accepted as a fitting plot hole in the story. We’re still prone to the defensive muddles – both goals were avoidable – but hopefully there’s a story in there somewhere; one that is a bit more Han Solo and a little less Jah Jah Binks.

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Oxblogger

Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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