A pivotal moment on the London Road
At 3.45 on the 29th December 1979, my life is about to change forever. Oxford United were playing Hull City, it was half-time and my dad and I were on the London Road on one our occasional trips to The Manor. It was bitterly cold and the scorching hot Scotch Broth my Granny made before we headed off to the ground was long gone. I loved football and couldn’t get enough of it, but the score was 0-0, it was so terrible, even I knew it.
My dad, knowing that I was cold, asked whether I wanted to go home. I suspect this wasn’t much to do with my welfare, more that he didn’t want to be with a whining 7 year old. I pondered; the terrace was empty; the crowd was small and most had dipped behind the stand to stock up on Bovril and chips. I thought about his offer – go home and get warm; or stay and, well, stay?
I don’t know how long I thought about it, but I eventually concluded we would stay. It was uncharacteristically resolute of me. Oxford came out in the second half kicking down the slope towards the London Road. We roared to a 3-0 win, our performance in the second half was as good as the first half was bad. I’d made the right decision. Going to football was making the right decision, as was staying to the very end and not giving up on your team. My lingering memory is of the pride of sticking with it more than any of the goals. Going to football, not just watching it on TV, was my path.
Richard’s dad was brilliant. He was big in sweets. Well, his job involved getting boxes of chocolates, which he stored in their larder. If my dad couldn’t take me to games, I’d go with Richard and his dad where he’d produce chocolate from various pockets in his coat like Willy Wonka. We’d flit around him like baby birds waiting to be fed. My dad once got his hands on a ZX81 computer and spent all night programming it to print a picture of Mickey Mouse. The printer broke down halfway through due to a bug in the programme. Working with sweets was the best.
We were resolutely Osler Road at the time, but Richard and I would occasionally venture to the wall on the corner with the London Road so we could pat Garry Barnett on the back when he took a corner. It was a sort of training ground for the London Road and for soft boys like us, it was a rough place to be. Occasionally we’d get a prime spot stood on the wall leaning against an advertising board, but mostly we’d end up being faced down by some kids from Barton or Blackbird Leys and would be chased away back to the safety of our dads. The next day we’d report back at school about being at the match and dealing with the ruffians. Nobody really believed us, but were probably quite impressed we were allowed to stay up after 9.30pm.
Nottingham Forest, 1996
It’s 1996, it’s the FA Cup and we’ve drawn Nottingham Forest. The game was postponed and then re-arranged. I fell out with a friend who claims he’s didn’t want to come after I got him a ticket. I’m irritated because of the money, but I don’t want to go alone. In the end, he feels guilty enough to come.
We get there and mill around under the stand; we’re chatting with a steward. Rather naively, my friend asks whether it’ll be a full house. He mouths ‘no’ while observing the Oxford fans suspiciously. He’s not wrong, it’s a cold night, but it’s almost as if someone forgot to tell the people of Nottingham that a game is on.
Forest are in the Premier League and have Brian Roy in their ranks. It’s like he floats, he drops his shoulder and sends the whole away end the wrong way. We’re not playing badly at all, but they’re a class above. It’s no surprise when they take the lead. It looks like we’re heading out, but nobody can be disappointed by the display. Into the last minute and we get a corner. Bobby Ford sweeps another elegant cross into the far post, Stuart Massey fearlessly crashes through a bank of players connects with the ball and grabs the equaliser. In an involuntary spasm, I leave my seat and run down the steps towards him, I’m engulfed by fans, players, stewards and policemen. A briefly make eye contact with Massey who screams in my face. I can’t stop myself, at that moment I’ve truly lost my mind.
Mickey Lewis tells a story
It’s 2004 and I’m at my sister’s wedding. Mickey Lewis is married to one of her old school friends. My mum and dad went to Lewis’ wedding, the bar was full of the great and the good of 1990s Oxford. Dave Penney was the best man. Lewis’ in-laws love him; his father-in-law came round to our house once and told a story about how when they go out to pick up a curry, Mickey would have a pint in the local pub and a bag of chips from the chippy while he waited for his takeaway. For cosseted local folk, this is an adventure beyond boundaries.
At my sister’s wedding Lewis is at the bar for most of the night holding court with a number of Oxford and Derby fans. He breaks free just once as the opening bars of Baggy Trousers comes on the disco. He gently pushes me aside as he enters the fray so that he can put in a solid 3.34 seconds of skanking.
As the evening’s celebrations draw to a close and the numbers dwindle, I’m one of a handful of stragglers left in the hotel bar. Mickey’s gravelly voice is getting worse with every passing story. One of our number is a Wycombe Wanderers fan, so I prime Mickey with a mention of our 1996 win over Wanderers at Adams Park. Suddenly, Mickey’s animated; ‘We SPANKED them, didn’t we?’ he says, ‘SPANKED THEM’. His voice echoes across the empty bar. Suddenly he’s on his feet, he grabs his chair and starts to hump it, a metaphor for the beating we gave them that day. His volume increases to the point where he wakes the wife of one of our number who comes out and puts a stop to the party – with Mickey mid-hump – dragging her husband to bed.