Accrington Stanley… the story begins

“Mr Stanley, finally we meet”

Accrington squinted as he tried to focus on the figure sat in the half-light of the room. In front of him was a man looking regal but battered and worn. Like he’d been in a battle.

As his eyes became accustomed to the little light there was he saw a familiar figure. Where was he from? He couldn’t recall, though clearly the man knew him. His eyes were fixed unblinking. Suddenly something sparked a memory; he had seen him before, in the corridor that lead from the sunshine to the cesspool of piranhas, that horrible journey to unimaginable misery.

They’d met twice, in fact, the first time many years ago, the man was fresh and triumphant, the second, more recently, he was drawn, haunted even, with deadened eyes.

Could what they say about the prophecy be true? About that first meeting setting off a chain of events that would lead only to peril? Was this really the man they called… Oxford?

The man in front of him looked better than he did that day, but his scars were barely healed. Finally he spoke again.

“Accrington Stanley, did you really think that I wouldn’t find you?”

The force of the man’s presence caused Accrington to step back until he was flat against the wall. A chill shot down his spine. Suddenly it was all making sense. Was this the prophecy finally coming to bear?

Wycombe Wanderers 0 Yellows 0

There was some dispute as to whether today’s 0-0 draw with Wycombe was a derby or not. With my, perhaps too literal head on; I think it is. After all Oxford to Wycombe is 30 miles compared with traditional rivals Swindon (also 30 miles) and Reading (42).

Apparently there’s a Football Rivals Index, I’ve read the report from 2008 and we’re not mentioned once. In fact, Macclesfield v Stockport makes the grade above us. Suspicion about its validity is raised immediately due to the cover featuring West Brom and Wolves mascots arm in arm drinking champagne and not trying to cut each others’ throats out.

The index reassuringly uses a ‘complex formula’ based on a series of arbitrary criteria to measure the derby-ness of any derby. Interesting that although the report says that the rivalries must go deeper than the game itself the index doesn’t measure sectarian or class tension.

The first criteria – the feelings of the supporters – would suggest that the Oxford/Wycombe fixture does not have much derby-ness. Oxford looks towards Wiltshire and Berkshire, Wycombe fans’ heads are turned by Colchester, of all people.

However, the record between the clubs is considered another factor. Although we’ve clearly met many more times in the past, the truth is we haven’t played Swindon or Reading for a decade in the league and have only met them occasionally in the cup during that time. Wycombe, we’ve met 6 times in the same period.

Our record against Wycombe is pretty balanced. But so is our record against Reading. Against Swindon, however, we trail by some way. The inferiority complex is significant. We have, in the main, failed against Swindon. By pinning our frilly knickers to a yellow mast we’ve been proven to be wrong over and over again. It makes us more desperate to prove that our loyalties are rightly placed. The desperation is what breeds the rivalry.

The imbalance breeds a sense of injustice or, indeed, power. This is what gives a derby its greater purpose. Whether today’s game added to that required folklore is doubtful. But it was a highly satisfactory outcome. In the context of this season, it bodes well that we have now travelled to two well tipped teams, in pressurised circumstances, and came away with a point and clean sheet. Bring on you ‘ammers.

Wycombe Wanderers preview

For the first time ever I’m going to miss an Oxford v Wycombe professional league fixture. It’s the only Oxford fixture I can truly talk about with any authority.12 games and fifteen years, plus the 2006 cup game – I’ve seen it all; Matt Elliot’s sending off, Stuart Massey hanging off the cross bar, and a goalie named Hubert Busby.

In ’94 our rivals were Reading and Swindon. Wycombe were well run and non-threatening. Other derbies were blood-letting affairs, our Wycombe game plan was the equivalent of putting our hand on their forehead and letting them swing punches wildly. They were upstarts and pipsqueaks.

In truth by running their club properly, they produced a very effective football team. Adams Park is a neat little ground surrounded by the Chiltern Hills, or at least it was. In a fit of ambition they’ve added a huge main stand, which towers over the other three sides. It looks like someone’s decided to stop a few hoodies from smoking by moving a robotic killing machine in to watch over them.

For the first three meetings we simply expected victory, on each occasion we left miserable and usually a bit humiliated. The run was broken in ’96 whilst in the middle of a once in a generation run of games in which our juggernaut of a team sweep to promotion. The victory was marked by the aforementioned, now iconic, Massey monkey hang and Moody dad-gymnastics. The highlight of the sequence.

Between then and the last meeting in 2006 I stare at the fixtures desperately trying to recall much at all about any of them. I remember Pal Lundin scoring the winning penalty in the Auto Windscreen Shield game I missed, and a barely deserved away win in 2000, and Hubert Busby’s single appearance at a shambolic game I arrived late for, but that’s it.

We’ve traded blows, won a bit, lost a bit, but all the while we were drowning and they were not. In fact, having played in two major cup semi-finals they’ve had a recent history we’d have killed for.

The penultimate league game was probably the best in the sequence, a 2-2 draw with us equalising a couple of minutes from time. A classic in the great scheme of things, but with the crowd nearly 30% down on its ’95 vintage, most had lost interest in the fixture as a derby, in fact it was just another game.

Yellows 1 Bury 2

In some ways it’s been an unsatisfactory start to the season. Instead of a return of unbridled glory, we snuck back in a Staffordshire backwater. Then we had a big entrance on Tuesday, but in the wrong competition. It’s all a bit staccato. The big return was only going to be a big return when we played at home in the league.

As such there was expectation at the arrival of Bury. But in so many ways it played out like the first game we had at the Kassam against Rochdale in 2001. The crowd swelled to a level the fixture didn’t merit, the sun was supposed to mark the moment, but instead it was wet, muggy and changeable. We looked all new and bronzed and destined for recovery and future glories. Instead, we got turned over.

The Rage Online report of the Rochdale game was prophetically downbeat. The new stadium, manager, players and the great white hope of Jamie Brooks masked more invidious and dark spirits operating in the background at the club.

Which is exactly where the similarities with now end. We toiled against Rochdale, but some (me included) thought it was nothing a teambuilding golf day wouldn’t fix. We didn’t toil on Saturday; we were ferocious going forward and Bury were lucky not to take a pasting. That will have to be saved for another day.

Criticism? We’re a little fluid at the back and might need to dominate the opposition front line a little more. More generally, we might need to learn when to chase a victory and when to hold firm. Last year, we could confidently pile forward looking for goals without too much fear of being punished at the back. This year, we’ll need to be a little smarter.

But that’s being picky. Looking at the fixtures in August it’s easy to conclude that we might not get a pile of points. Burton, Bury and Wycombe have all been mentioned in despatches for the play-offs or better. A shortfall in August shouldn’t do us a lot of harm in the long term. Some might have us down for the play-offs, I think for the first time in years, this season is about accumulating points and seeing where it takes us. As long as that’s not down (and it won’t be), then I’ll be pretty satisfied.

Burton Albion 0 Yellows 0

To appease Sarah for coming 5th in a local newspaper competition to collect tokens to win a wedding, Graham asked his girlfriend of 10 months to marry him anyway. And so they did. Graham subsequently left Sarah weeks later only to return occasionally ‘drunk and with curry down his front’ for casual sex.

She eventually fell pregnant and Graham, under a sense of misguided obligation, returned to his new bride to start afresh. “A wedding doesn’t mean anything, anyone can write something on a bit of paper can’t they?” said Sarah with knowing gravity, as if we should listen to a single word that dummkopf says.

Such was Channel 4’s Newlyweds – One Year Itch about the immediate aftermath of a wedding, a salient series of lessons on the perils of putting too much emphasis on a single event.

The Resurrection screamed the brilliantly portentous banner from the Coors East Stand Terrace at the Pirelli Stadium. A rebirth, some think, that will see us storm League 2 like Dagenham, Exeter, Rushden, Hereford and Cheltenham before us. Not only that, we will then pick up the Blackpool story and race right through the Premiership for an embarrassing relegation, eyeball bleeding debt and liquidation at the hands of HMRC.

Now, if we become a club synonymous with following an apocalyptical quest full of myth, mystery and magic existing only in our imagination, then that’s fine by me. If the Premiership is all corporate foreign owned franchises, then I’m off to do a bit of dragon slaying.

That said, the 0-0 draw with Burton was a very sensible and sober start to whatever foolhardy mission we’ve embarked on. This is OK; all good missions should start with a relatively harmless early skirmish that doesn’t kill you but gives you enough encouragement to carry on towards the fiery abyss.