Match wrap – Oxford United 4 Cambridge United 2

It’s been a grim week which even football’s restorative powers have struggled to remedy. There was the melancholy of Joey Beauchamp’s passing last week, then wave after wave crashing over the top of it with every new morsel of information coming from Ukraine. The unrelenting bad news, you imagine, is the kind of thing that eroded Joey’s ever-weakening resistance. 

I remember Joey’s return to Oxford after his spell at Swindon, I’d expected the stands to be full and for him to put on a proper show. In fact, the crowd was about average for the season and Joey was largely anonymous. He was still recovering from the previous 18 months and the emotional wreckage that it had left behind. It felt like outside of a small hardcore, few people really cared that he was back. It made us feel small and insignifcant. My fear was that history would repeat itself and a stark reality would be shone in our faces reminded us that none of this means anything. Not really.

I wasn’t looking forward to Saturday; I didn’t have the compulsion to ‘be there’, I was tired of wading through the treacle of the week’s events, the idea of going to a game seemed pointless and indulgent. I feared any planned tribute would ultimately fall short and come over as mawkish and that we would have to comply even if it didn’t really reflect how we feel. I even feel uncomfortable writing about how ‘we’ feel. Do we even have a right to feel something? This isn’t our tragedy, we’re simply observers, are we complicit in making it all about us?

I pulled onto the Grenoble Road and saw the sun bouncing off the roofs of the parked cars. I can estimate the crowd size based on how far down the road the cars stretch; it was clearly going to be big; it was reassuring that, at least, we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. Any big statements about how we feel or what it meant wouldn’t echo around a half-empty stadium and drift into the sky.

Inside the ground, the mood was different to normal, the person sat next to me arrived about 10 minutes before kick-off and asked if he’d missed anything. The game was an after-thought, a long way away.

There was a hubbub of activity by the tunnel, Karl Robinson was very visible and there were bouquets of yellow flowers. The club’s academy players lined the pitch and Peter Rhodes-Brown steered us gently through the proceedings. As the crowd sang his name, a sombre hymn, a giant surfer unravelled revealing a huge image of Joey celebrating a goal. These pictures are now so familiar, moments frozen in time, they no longer capture a memory, more a feeling. There he was, happy, doing the only thing he wanted to do, to play for his football team, score goals and entertain people. 

Joey’s daughters were invited to lay their wreaths behind the East Stand goal. As the applause rippled, the girls walked stoically, breaking clear of other members of the family. Did they just want it to be over? The walk seemed to take forever, us celebrating the passing of a legend gave way to two young girls who’d lost their dad and who would now have to make sense of it all. Was all this for him? For them? For us? For the abstract idea of club and community? My hope is that they will come to realise that, quite simply, they’re not alone.

Before the minute’s applause academy players were invited to join the players in the centre circle; the strands of the club’s past, present and future, pulled together, strengthening the bonds that help us get through.

Then, there was a lull, a mood-shift, nobody quite knew how to navigate from the large abstracts of life’s challenges to the comparative meaningless of a game of football. When does mourning give way to pragmatism? What do you do? Should we lean into the emotion of the day, seeking symbolism where there isn’t any? Or do you shut it out and pretend everything that had come before didn’t happened. Was that even possible?

We started with two strikers, both Oxford fans, and without wingers; psychologists would have a field day. The unfamiliar system meant that passes went astray and our usual fast start didn’t materialise. After six minutes Sam Smith, a player with as much talent as Joey Beauchamp had in this toe – the injured one that ended his career – poked home to give Cambridge the lead. He peeled away in a moment of unfettered boneheadedness and goaded the Oxford fans in the Jim Smith Stand.  

Rather than sparking a response, the game dragged on, passes were played into spaces where players no longer stood, Matty Taylor drifted wide to give himself and Sam Baldock space, at one point he was sitting at left-back as we tried to break forward. In truth, it was a bit of a mess. Had the week finally caught up on us?

The equaliser came, a low bouncing cross from Ryan Williams, a feint from Baldock and Matty Taylor was there to slot home. A reprieve rather than a revival, it felt like we were still trying to figure out the system in real time. We were sluggish and disjointed.

As the hour approached, Karl Robinson had seen enough, substitutes were readied just as another mistake led to another Sam Smith goal. It wasn’t a day for frustrations or anger, not towards your own team, but we seemed to be sleepwalking to a defeat which just didn’t seem to matter in the circumstances. 

Cameron Brannagan claimed the second equaliser and, at least, we seemed to bring Cambridge to heel. As fragmented as we were you couldn’t imagine them creating a third opportunity. Any other week this should have been a routine victory, but it wasn’t any other week. The good things that were happening were flowing through Ryan Williams, who fed Mark Sykes to set up Sam Baldock for the third, then they reversed roles to give Brannagan the fourth. It hadn’t been great, but we’d dragged ourselves through it. Life is full of symbolism, isn’t it?

It didn’t really matter, of course, the game was a distraction, a necessity around which we could build a moment of symbolic communion. This was about one person and his timeless legacy, about re-establishing the bonds that help us navigate the vagaries of our lives. The artist Banksy is attributed with saying that everyone dies twice – once when we breathe our last breath and again when their name is last spoken. After Saturday, we can be assured that we may have lost Joey once, but we’ll never lose him again. 

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Cambridge analytica

Sunday 1 August 2021

Helicopter pilot Gavin Whyte has wanged his way back to the club on loan from Cardiff City. We don’t want to be too cocky, but as we don’t use the schlong ball game, we think he’ll propel us to promotion, it’ll be tough, but where there’s a willy, there’s a way.

Monday 2 August 2021

With KRob salivating over the re-signing of Gavin Whyte, the rest of the coaching staff were able to sneak a defender into the building with Jordan Thorniley signing on loan from Blackpool. Meanwhile, bang dem up dat wid de big bear belly; Robbie Hall has found himself on trial in the lair of fatberg Steve Evans at Gillingham. #prayforrob #freerob #bigboned.

Tuesday 3 August 2021

With a few days left until the start of the season, Oxford got ready for the new campaign by inviting some NHS workers to the training ground. These are the heroes who have been looking after some of the country’s sickest people, or Sam Winnall as we know him.

Wednesday 4 August 2021

Barnet manager, Harry Kewell has been reflecting on his team’s 1-1 friendly draw with Oxford while we reflect on the fact we played a 1-1 friendly draw with Barnet nobody knew about.   

Thursday 5 August 2021

Play-offs, here we come. In Plymouth Live’s League One league table of new kits we’ve come a very creditable 5th. In rave reviews, the Gok Wan’s doing the review called the shirt ‘not gobbing’ which is good enough for us.

Friday 6 August 2021

The club launched two new shirts via Tiktok; YouTube for the ADHD generation. A zig zagging fever-dream blue and white third shirt is complemented by a black change kit with yellow trim; a reminder of the golden years of Doudou and Rob Wooleansten.   

Saturday 7 August 2021

There was no undeserved privilege at the Abbey Stadium on the opening day of the season as Oxford and Cambridge played out a 1-1 draw. The game was sponsored by Astrazeneca, the pharmaceutical giant who worked with Oxford University to inject DNA-changing 5G transmitters into people’s arms. 

Sunday 8 August 2021

It may be over a year since fans have been at games; a time when people have lost loved ones and suffered economic hardship, but Cambridge manager Mark Bonner, reflecting on yesterday’s game, has no time for snowflake bedwetting. “I felt it was right to say welcome back to everyone, and to thank them for their support, but you’re also asking them at that point ‘come on then, you’re back now, so play a part with us this year’.” 

Monday 9 August 2021

There was a time that Chris Wilder could have been the next Denis Smith by declaring himself a candidate for the England manager’s job. Now he’s ready to climb his next mountain and get back into football. Wilder has never been out of the game for this long before, which has allowed a period of reflection. If we were Chris Wilder reflecting on who Chris Wilder is, we’d probably go looking for a big distraction too.  

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Jose’s son, John Mousinho hasn’t always led the life of a high flying office administrator. No, there was a time when he could only dream of owning his own clipboard and clicky pen. He used to play football for Burton Albion, who we play in the 1st round of the Type 2 Diabetes Cup tomorrow. “I don’t think you can replicate the buzz of playing, winning or scoring – it’s a cliché, but it’s true.” he said.

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Alright mate, calm down. Jose’s son decided to replicate the buzz of scoring for Burton by scoring for Burton in the last minute to cancel out Nathan Holland’s opener on Wednesday night. His deflected own-goal sent the tie to penalties. At that point it was time for the grown-ups to step in; Sensible Simon Eastwood saved two penalties before the box-to-boxfile footballer Mousinho did the admin by larruping home the winning spot kick.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Burton manager Flimsy Droid Bustlebank, has been ruing the missed opportunities that led to his side being knocked out of the Type 2 Diabetes Cup last night. “We had two balls cleared off the line, we looked dangerous going forward and it was just that final bit we are looking for and need to get better at.“ He said. A lack of striking options is at the heart of the problem but he hopes to have Kane Hemmings available soon, he’s also hoping to have some striking options too.

Friday 13 August 2021

Oxford welcome back both Charlton and fans on Saturday. Charlton manager Nigel Adkins has injury problems with three players doubtful for the game. “We’re a small group of players. You can see where we are, this is our squad.” He will, however, have former Oxford player, Sean Clare available who is currently doing a charity fundraiser to see if he can play for every League 1 club in the country.

Match wrap – Cambridge United 1 Oxford United 1

There were only ten days between last season’s League 2 play-off final and the start of the European Championships, which overlapped with the Tour de France, which ended just four days before the Olympics, which end today; the day after the start of the new football season.

Perhaps cricket is your summer preference, but it still stands; there’s been no respite from big sport this summer. If you add our strange and subdued pre-season and the uncertainties of, you know, The Bug, the season seems to have emerged on our doorstep like the half-brother you didn’t know you had. 

There’s an old joke; the season starts with hope and no experience and ends with experience and no hope. In my mind, a new season should bloom; new kits, new players, bronzed faces and refreshed fans. A kernel packed full of optimism that explodes into life. I used to like seeing pre-season photos in the first programme of the season; the purple-faced players desperately trying to work off the indulgences of their six weeks in the pub. The new season saw the team renewed, the build up to that point was more hidden from view. Things have changed now, every day of the summer is documented, players don’t let their guard drop like they did, we never fully lose track of the comings and goings of the closed season. Football is just one long continuum and not necessarily better because of it.

In truth, I haven’t fully reconciled the idea of returning to an unrestricted stadium, so don’t share the sense of excitement that others do. Japan shut their entire Olympics down to fans with only half the cases we have in the UK, and they seem like very sensible people. I know we all want to believe that things are normal, but they’re not and I can’t help feel the return to full stadiums may be a bit like last year’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ bonanza – something that seemed like a good idea at the time. It might be that the stadiums stay open throughout the season, but without restrictions? I’d be surprised.

Things at the club seem a bit incomplete too; the quiet pre-season programme was necessary, but the protracted takeover seems to be having an effect from the distribution of season tickets to the late release of new kits. Karl Robinson needs more players, and although that’s not unusual, it all feels a bit like a work in progress. 

Does it matter? I realise there’ll be a first time back in the stadium surrounded by people and that might feel odd. I’m not particularly worried about myself; I’m vaccinated and reasonably healthy, the risks are fairly low. I’m more bothered by the prospect of future restrictions and disruption and that we’re not doing enough now to prevent problems in the future – plenty of countries have seen big surges from a much lower base. Would a gradual return be more sensible?

On the pitch, it’s more about the conventional issues. If promotion is the goal, it’s no secret that our sluggish starts have cost us in the past. New players have taken a while to settle into the culture of the club; some never get there and major surgery is needed at Christmas to get things back on track. Thinking back to previous promotion seasons, the summer is characterised by a wave of positive energy with signings coming thick and fast and the club feeling positive and on the front foot. It’s not a negative feeling at the moment, but more that we’re working through issues than we’re fully focussed on the goal. Have we done enough during the summer to make a decent start we feel we need? Or, is this the pattern we just have to get used to?

The draw with Cambridge won’t define the season; it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be expecting to do much more than stay in the division this season and it could be too easy to to look at the result as two points dropped. In some senses, it could play to our advantage in avoiding an over-reaction – it wasn’t the demoralising failure against Lincoln last year, but neither did it create the illusion that everything is motoring like it should.

Although it’s characterised as a great party, the key to starting the season is to be conservative and not get too carried away. If it were cricket it would be like a new batsman getting to the crease, blocking the first ball with a solid forward defensive, patting down an imaginary piece of rough ground and resetting for the next ball. 

Midweek fixture: Oxford United’s biggest rivals… ranked

How do you measure a rivalry? Location? Envy? Superiority? Or is it just a feeling? A few weeks ago, I asked you who you thought were our biggest rivals. Well, here’s the top nineteen.

19. Peterborough United

Let’s not get carried away; it doesn’t take many votes to become our 19th biggest rival. This one is the result of a brooding dislike following the curtailing of last season and the antics of the Peterborough hierarchy.

18. Cambridge United

Really? I’m surprised so many lazy Sky Sports commentators voted. The tenuous varsity link between the two cities has never turned made it into the stands in terms of a rivalry.

17. Queen’s Park Rangers

While many of these lower rivals are based on a single issue, any rivalry with QPR is surely based on a single game, 34 years ago at Wembley.

16. Coventry City

Maybe a bit of a surprise to some, but if you live in the north of the county, you may be more familiar with Coventry fans than other parts.

15. Sunderland

The biggest team in our division probably attracts a few ‘pick me’ votes, but the added link of Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven and Chris Maguire, mean that Sunderland make the list.

14. Stevenage

The team that denied us promotion from the Conference in 2010, but most likely, any rivalry is down to one man and his drinks break; Graham Westley.

13. Wimbledon

Familiarity breeds contempt, Oxford and Wimbledon have shared many seasons together over a very long time. Alongside Luton, they’re the only team we’ve played in both the top flight and the Conference.

12. Bristol City

I can’t fathom this one, we’ve played each other once in the last eighteen years.

11. Crewe Alexandra

In almost any other season, Crewe wouldn’t attract a vote, but the vitriol surrounding their double postponement earlier this season adds a bit of spice to an otherwise dormant relationship. The only rivalry based on not playing any games.

10. Cheltenham Town

Into the top ten and we’re beginning to touch on more sensible rivalries. Cheltenham Town’s relationship must be down to location.

9. Leyton Orient

Some will never let it go; some fourteen years ago Leyton Orient came to the Kassam looking for a win to secure promotion. They did it in the last minute, which sent us down to the Conference. They danced on our pitch, apparently, though I’d left by then. Some will never forget or forgive.

8. MK Dons

The newest rivalry in the list. It’s not exactly what you’d call white hot, but geographical location has always promised a good large following and made MK Dons a decent away day.

7. Portsmouth

Portsmouth sat on their own in terms of votes – some twenty ahead of MK Dons, and a similar number behind Northampton. We’ve shared many seasons with Portsmouth, I think secretly we’re a bit envious of their size and history, which makes beating them all the more sweet.

6. Northampton Town

Now we’re into the real rivalries. First up Northampton Town, another team whose path we’ve crossed countless times. Added spice came from Chris Wilder leaving us for them in 2014, then keeping them up. Then two years later, Wilder took them up as champions despite Michael Appleton’s assertion we were the better team.

5. Luton Town

There’s a genuinely visceral dislike for Luton Town, we’ve played them in the top division and the Conference, we’ve been promotion rivals and they’ve poached our manager. All of which adds up to a relationship with a bit of bite.

4. Bristol Rovers

A team we’ve played with almost monotonous regularity, any rivalry is spiced up by the fact we’re both very capable of winning away in the game. Matty Taylor helped turn the heat up a notch, he hates the Gas, pass it on.

3. Wycombe Wanderers

It’s not a derby, but of all the non-derbies out there, this is the biggest one for us. We won decisively in a key game on the way to promotion in 1996, they beat us in the FA Cup when we were on a roll in 2010, six years later we secured promotion against them, and last year they secured promotion against us at Wembley. It’s not a derby, but it’s getting there.

2. Reading

Perhaps at the expense of Reading? We haven’t played each other in 16 years and not as equals in 19. But, a rivalry still exists, apparently, though it’s kind of like the Korean War – it’s still technically happening, but in reality it’s made up of irritating each other on social media.

1. Swindon Town

The big one. But, this list wasn’t really about finding out who our biggest rival were.

Cambridge wrap – Cambridge United 0 Oxford United 0

Easter was supposed to be telling, but it’s turned out to be as confusing as ever. Bristol Rovers, who looked like they were on a charge faltered at Carlisle, Plymouth, who looked like they were on the slide took maximum points from their two games, and Accrington have returned to the promotion fold like a bad smell.

We had the worst Easter of all the key teams, which was down to the Stevenage result more than the draw with Cambridge. Cambridge retain a remote outside chance of the play-offs, so they were no pushover. The point was fine, it’s just that we really could have done with all three.
Ultimately the picture remains as it has done for months; Northampton continue to run away with it, while Plymouth and ourselves sit in the promotion spots. The others dance around threatening to catch us and then failing to do so. If we were to be scientific and objective, evidence suggests this is how it will remain, it just doesn’t feel much like that.
The run-ins for the key protagonists tells us little, apart from Bristol Rovers’ away game at Northampton on the 9th April, there are few fixtures which would describe as either walk-overs or banana skins. Everyone is involved in a League 2 shitfight from here on in.
The good news is we should return from Wembley in a promotion slot with O’Dowda and Kenny back and Lundstram serving only one more game of his suspension. Plus, Wembley will be behind us and then only thing we’ll have to worry about is getting over the line.

Lundstram (the return, or not, in fact)

So, Lundstram misses Wembley joining Billy Hamilton and, to a lesser extent, Adam Murray in the Oxford United Wembley Heartache Hall of Fame.
The key defence was that Lundstram got the ball, but I suspect that’s the least important thing in the argument. The priority is probably the safety of the player and the question of whether Lundstram was in control of his tackle. Key to that, then, is not the foot that made connection with the ball, but the foot that should have been controlling his movement. The replay is inconclusive as whether Lundstram could have controlled his movement to prevent serious injury if he needed to. The referee thought not and I guess the FA couldn’t see sufficient evidence to say otherwise.
It does still seem unfair for Lundstram to miss the JPT for a misdemeanor in the league. If it had been done at any other time during the season it wouldn’t have had an impact on his Wembley appearance. He just seems to be a victim of timing.

Wilder (the return)

Chris Wilder is obsessed with our failure, it seems. Key evidence for this was an extract in the Football League Paper tweeted by Radio Oxford’s own charity mugger; Selfy.

“Some other teams in this division can play fantastic football but they might win one week and get beat the next and they’ll be playing League 2 football next year. Or they’ll be in the play-offs at best. We’ll be champions and we’ll be in League One.”

The implication was that he’s referring to us, which seems unlikely given that we’re not a team hoping for the play-offs ‘at best’. I think it’s a more general point that winning the title is the definitive statement of ‘success’ not whether it’s done in the right way or not is irrelevant.
That’s not to say Wilder wouldn’t be happy seeing us fail. There’s a perverse pleasure in seeing your former employer struggle because it shows important you were to their success.
But, that assumes Wilder, had he chosen to stay at Oxford, would still be the manager now and therefore ‘doing a Northampton’. Even if he had survived the Eales takeover – which is unlikely – I suspect his results last season would have been little better than they were under Michael Appleton. In all likelihood Wilder would have produced another ‘nearly’ season, which he probably wouldn’t have survived.
Obsession is a emotive, but I suspect once Northampton have got promotion his next favourite thing would be for us not to be promoted. Which is all very disingenuous because without his success at Oxford, he wouldn’t have the Northampton job in the first place.
So Wilder is comparing Oxford United as it is today, barely a reflection on the club he left, against an Oxford United that might have existed in the very unlikely event that he’d have been allowed to continue managing the club. Which, ultimately, is Wilder creating an argument with a himself, something he seems prone to do.

The wrap – Oxford United 1 Cambridge United 0

“Well, last night’s events really put the JPT draw into perspective.”

That was the tweet I wrote on Saturday morning, I wasn’t sure if anyone would get it and so did what I always try to do when I find I’m doubting myself; I erred on the side of caution and deleted it.

Would people get the wrong end of the stick? Would they get that I’m poking fun at people talking about major events which ‘put football into perspective’ as if football is the benchmark around which everything else should be measured. A bit like Bono saying that it showed the terrorists don’t like music, because the issue pivots around attitudes towards stadium rock rather than civil war in Syria.

As abnormal as Friday night was in France, Saturday in Oxford was as normal as it was possible to be. I went to the Cambridge game as planned, it rained like it frequently does, there was a reassuringly familiar chill in the air, it was dark when I left the ground. We scored a wonderful goal, threatened to score a couple more, played well and survived some hairy moments at the death. I could go home content with the three points and the prospect of a curry in the evening. I love that kind of Saturday, it was very normal and successful in its own moderate way.

While the atrocity in Paris is a tragedy on a personal level for hundreds of people, it is still just a blip. A blip in a long quest for reasonableness and rationality. This is a war that is being won and has been won for decades. It was such a shock because it was so unusual. In the first World War nearly 60 times the number who died on Friday died every single day for four years. From that version of ‘normal’ to this, that’s how far we’ve come in a 100 years. Remember, this is the best they’ve got, it achieved virtually nothing and, the very next day, most people got up and carried on with their lives.

The Paris attacks were considered an attack on liberté, égalité, fraternité; the livelihoods of normal people, but it was ultimately nothing more than a graze on those principles. What option do we have? We signed up to them too long ago to turn back now, and more importantly, why would we want to? The plan is simple, apply the principles, demonstrate that ultimately everyone wants them, no matter which religious or philosophical lense they are viewed through, get people bought into the idea and help them realise that they are achieving nothing. Perhaps the club could have a game themed around bringing greater diversity and inclusivity to the stands at the Kassam? Who wouldn’t want the multicultural melting pot of Oxford reflected in its football club?

The best response anyone can give to something like Friday’s events is to continue as we’d always planned to, go to football together, watch it together, enjoy it together and then come home knowing that another victory, in every sense, has been secured.