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.