Oxblogger is 15 years old this weekend, so in an act of extreme self-indulgence this weekend I’m going to post some stuff about, well, Oxblogger. Blogging about blogging; very meta. First up; where did it all start?
Fifteen years suddenly feels like a long time, so hopefully spending some time writing about myself is justified. The reason for starting Oxblogger in 2006, weeks after we’d been relegated to the Conference, was because I didn’t have an outlet for my thoughts. There was a lot going on at the club – new owners, new managers, years of decline and vitriol, and maybe, maybe the prospect of a blistering, unbeaten run to the Conference title. At least, that was the plan. I wasn’t bothered about having an audience, I just wanted somewhere to reflect.
Oxford Mail had the This is United forum, a precursor to Yellows Forum, but that was too binary; you either hated things or loved them, and there’d be unhelpful groupthink – this player is rubbish, that player is brilliant, Firoz Kassam is rubbish, and on and on. It moved too fast for nuance.
I liked Arseblog, the Arsenal blog which launched in 2002, in 2006 they were at the other end of the spectrum, reaching the Champions League final against Barcelona, Arseblog had tracked the whole journey and covered the final with giddy excitement. Ten days after that, Oxlogger was born.
There was no vision, it wasn’t a showcase of any journalistic talents or some cockamamie business idea; I knew that I didn’t have the attention to detail for match reports, but that was it. It was just free to meander wherever it took me.
At first nobody was interested, readership was low with a trickle of traffic from the ever-wonderful Rage Online, I was pursued by a troll who had his own blog of tortured poetry, but avoided an argument and he eventually disappeared. After a couple of years, Twitter came along and I signed on at @oxtweeter.
I still kick myself that I didn’t give myself the handle @oxblogger. Back then smartphones were in the minority and you texted your tweet to the site. My first tweets were around the Wrexham game towards the end of the 2008/9 season when we were on a breathtaking run to the play-offs. There was a small Oxford United community, lots of tech and media-types, experimenters and early adopters; it wasn’t as incendiary as This is United, it was more irreverent and fun. I shared a link to an illegal stream of our game at Burton and we all watched along together.
The community coagulated around each other; I didn’t routinely promote the blog because it felt a bit of an imposition. When I did, I got more followers and more visitors. The 2009/10 promotion season and Wembley followed; a special day happening in parallel both in the real world and virtually. That success brought more interest, the blog offered another lens through which people could relive their experience. It’s a paradox; when things go badly, it’s easier to write, but less people want to read.
Our eventual return to the Football League put us on a collision course with Swindon Town and our first league meeting in nearly a decade. Shortly after the win at the County Ground I looked at my blog statistics to see nearly 2000 visitors had gone on the site, when I looked later, it was up to 4,000, this was significantly more than I was getting and still get today. When I looked deeper, The Guardian had linked to my post as an illustration of what the Oxford Swindon derby was about.
We settled into League 2 but Chris Wilder couldn’t quite get us over the line and to another promotion. The night he resigned, and then didn’t, I wrote a long piece about him only to find that he was still, technically, in post. Someone tweeted that they were looking forward to seeing what I’d written.
After a couple of bumps, Michael Appleton eventually arrived with Darryl Eales to instigate a revolution. The 2014/15 season was a disaster and I grew tired not only of the blog, but of the club. There was a feeling that we might forever bump around League 2 under a procession of underachieving managers. I began to think about giving up my season ticket, saving some money and only attending bigger games. I decided I’d give it one more season.
After a long hard winter lasting 15 years, the club seemed to suddenly blossom as the 2015/16 season started, fans and club were in simpatico, I had a renewed sense of vigour and a growing readership, I got into a routine writing ‘match wraps’; a sort of non-match report. Everything happened – Wembley, derbies, giant killings and promotion, an onslaught of success, the fans ignited in a frenzy of colour; it begged to be written about, so I did.
The anonymity of the blog was never planned, it’s just that nobody was interested at first, now it’s seen to be a thing. It’s an odd experience, like wanting people to address you by your self-appointed nickname. When confronting with those realities, you realise it’s one thing to dress up as Spiderman, it’s something else to leave the house and insist that everyone calls you it.
I added a ‘Midweek fixture‘ feature to give me a bit of freedom to write about different things that took my interest, usually stupid bits of trivia, like the whereabouts of Damian Batt, or little challenges that get out of hand like trying to find a significant goal for every minute of the game. I started doing reader voted lists, I’m not really interested who wins, it’s mainly because I’m the sort of person who is interested in finding out the club’s 23rd favourite player of the 1990s (which is Andy Melville).
On top of that there’s George Lawrence’s Shorts – named after the tight shorts of our winger from the 1980s, I may be the only person who gets the reference. That was originally a way of getting through the summer with a weekly news round up which is supposed to be vaguely funny. It should be easy, but it’s torture to do. I got to do the Fence End Podcast, BBC Radio Oxford, I wrote for Sky Sports and World Football and even advised a German commentator who’d been assigned our play-off final against Wycombe. Lots of things I’d never have got to do.
At the end of the decade, there was an opportunity to look back; we’d started in the Conference and ended in League 1; we’d been to Wembley 3 times, got promoted twice, won six Swindon derbies and beaten a bunch of Premier League teams – it had produced a pile of memories and I’d managed to capture, at least, some of it in some way. It wasn’t quite Arseblog’s journey to the Champions League final, but it was a journey, which helps me realise that it doesn’t matter how big the world you’re in is, it will always mean something to someone.
It turns out that Oxblogger is a concept album; a creative outlet with a running theme through it; there still isn’t a plan and I do wonder how it might end. But, for now it keeps going, what next? A book? A podcast? Do people really like reading anymore? I quite like the idea of buying a fancy microphone and recording something, but we’re well served in that space with T’Manor and The Fence End, so it’d have to offer something different. These plans tend to take years to come to anything, so don’t hold your breath.
In the end, I just like being part of a little community that buzzes around eleven men in yellow who run around after a bag of wind a couple of times a week. I don’t really acknowledge it enough, but I appreciate every visitor to the site, every like, every retweet and every comment; maybe deep down, that’s all I’m doing it for and it is all a bit indulgent. Even if it is, I genuinely hope it adds just a fraction more joy to those following the club and helps, in its own tiny way, to edge it further in the right direction.