Swindon wrap – Swindon Town 1 Oxford United 2

Dawn breaks and with it the fizz of social media; the relentless feed of an impending apocalypse is, for once, swamped; the drums of doom are silenced, it’s derby day; hear the clarion call. 
The networks have chattered for days, the rules of engagement established – the times of trains, the pubs to drink in and, above all, the etiquette surrounding your allocated seat. We will drink and ride at dawn, but the mayhem and carnage will be meticulously organised.
Things have changed in recent years; once there was exchange, an angry banter between foes, their shadow, our cup final. On and on, round and round, an endlessly reductive debate over supremacy. Grinding the will of reason down to its stumps. But now Swindonians have retreated, like the siege of Leningrad, they are starving behind their defences, fearful of attack, hoping that they might bluff their way to survival. Things are not well in Wiltshire.
Oxford head west with a record to protect; a sixteen year winning streak – six in a row, don’t count the Checkatrade Trophy, count the JPT, ignore they are the same. History is written by the victors, let the history say it’s six in a row, heading for seven.
There is a bubbling confidence, a generation of Oxford fans who have never seen us lose any derby game, let alone one at the County Ground. They don’t remember taking Wayne Hatswell and Steve Anthrobus up the A420 as our champions in the fight. But green shirts, Domino internet and David Kemp are no more than vague jokes about a past that probably never existed. There are no photos of Guy Whittingham, it never happened. You weren’t there man, you weren’t there.
Winning at the dilapidated County Ground is so alien I can no longer face going there. My experience is universally miserable, the inhumane herding into the Stratton Bank, the vitriol and misery and, on one occasion, the unchecked racism, then once the defeat is confirmed, being released into the park to fend for yourself. You want a ruck mate? No thanks, a Mars bar and the heaters in my car will do just fine.
It’s more than that, is there another club in the country against who we are defending a 16-year record? A six match winning streak? I doubt it, not with our recent history. These winning streaks don’t happen to us against anyone let alone our biggest rivals. This is unusual, perhaps unique. I don’t like unusual, because unusual eventually reverts to something vaguely usual. And usual in this context means losing. 
We seem to spend most of the opening half picking ourselves up from heavy challenges. Swindon have done their homework and know we don’t like it when it’s physical. It looks like they’re going to bully us out of three points. 
To confirm my fears they score, usual is being restored, this extraordinary streak is being broken. It is, to some extent, a relief; the record, the dominance is a heavy burden and as the half progresses, that burden is heavier. The higher we climb, the more cataclysmic the fall. What’s worse, falling or waiting to fall?
I check Twitter a few times, switch on Yellow Player to listen to its intermittent, spluttering coverage. I actually lose contact for a few minutes. I do something else for a bit and then get in the car to run an errand, I switch the radio on and something has happened. I can’t quite tell what, Nick Harris’ tone no longer betrays a good or bad outcome, like he’s just seen too much football and nothing surprises him anymore. The noise of the crowd is so immense it could easily be another home goal. But, no, the fragments that are filtering through are being pieced together; it’s Sercombe, bionic Liam Sercombe with the equaliser. It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t matter.
I’m sitting in the car listening to the immediate aftermath. I’m thinking a point is good, like in ’95 (my highpoint) when Mike Ford cleared off the line and shook the net with rage and we went ballistic in response. We’ll maintain a streak, not quite seven in a row, but still good. Then, as ambiguous as the first goal is, there’s an emphatic sonic boom from the radio, there’s genuine shock in Jerome Sale’s voice at what he’s just seen. Rob Hall has blown the place to pieces with a 25 yard drive. We lead, but we may well have irreparably broken our opponents too.
Swindon’s seething aggression which served them well in the first half bubbles over, Lawrence Vigouroux writes himself into folklore and breaks some kind of record by being the first goalkeeper to be sent off in both league fixtures. Probably ever. That would be a good pub quiz question if anyone can be bothered to check it out. In all honesty, it looks as soft as his red card at the Kassam, but we laugh anyway. 
So, the unusual is extended or perhaps the new usual is established? Seven consecutive defeats is enough to break anyone’s spirit, Swindon were ragged in September, and wretched now. They were as poor as any team we faced last year. They may well be relegated and they might never recover. It happens. Given our comparative trajectories it could be years until we play them again. This might be the war to end all wars. It must be exhausting being a Swindon fan, living their club’s extraordinary capacity to lurch from one extreme to another – from surging through the divisions to scrambling to pay the bills. Can they bounce back again? Afterwards it’s revealed their director of football Tim Sherwood, who’s reputation is built on a vacuum of nothingness, was not at the game and didn’t pick the team.  The coach cannot say why. Wreckage piled upon wreckage. The smouldering carcass of a club which once dominated us. They look crushed.

Swindon wrap – Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0

The derby football can’t be arsed with. Oxford and Swindon have now played six times since 2011, all to near full houses, all good games, all with meaning, incident, narrative and purpose. Yet TV; so desperate to saturate schedules with live football, barely gives it a nod of attention. Even the police couldn’t be bothered to move the fixture this year presumably for fear of disrupting early morning showings of Sausage Party at Vue or the Kassam’s car boot sale on Sunday.
Apparently, this week perma-tanned transfer junky and Sky Sport ‘babe’ worrier Jim White said the game wasn’t a derby. White is so obsessively on-message at Sky, when BT launched its sports channels he fronted a spoiling telethon that visited every ground in the country to eulogise Sky’s imperious ability to undertake acts of grandiose buffoonery. White treated it like he was avenging the public flaying of Rupert Murdoch’s carcass. It’s fair to say that if White doesn’t think this is a derby, then he’s pretty much quoting Sky’s editorial policy.
Admittedly, there was something more underwhelming about the build-up this year even though it was still only the second home league fixture between the clubs in 15 years. The joy of the classic double-header in 2011/12 was perhaps deadened slightly by two no-less thrilling but distinctly less glamorous JPT games. Like having unforgettably acrobatic mind-blowing sex followed by two sessions of perfunctory rutting. The mess was the same, in the moment it was just as fun, but the memories were less vivid.
There was something particularly perfect about the 2011/12 derbies, a tinder box of contempt which had grown over a decade exploding into life. The evil Italian fascist against the doughty Englishman. A racist chicken arrabiata against a Yorkshire pudding. And, against all odds, good won out.
But, with Brexit, Donald Trump and the success of Mrs Brown’s Boys, the world is now a more confusing place. We have a professorial coach whose mean scowl and tattooed tree-trunk arms make him look like he’s been released from a state penitentiary. I mean, this is what intelligent, functioning adults look like nowadays but it still challenges the stereotypes we draw comfort from.
Swindon are historically schizophrenic, ludicrous highs followed by preposterous lows, but the 2016 vintage seems to be almost neither. I had to look up who their manager was such is the depth they’ve slipped to since the glamour and attention gained by DiCanio’s capture. It appears Luke Williams’ greatest triumph in football was developing Yaser Kasim and Raphael Rossi Branco. Me neither, but if you ever need a name for a character in a game of Grand Theft Auto, then any combination of Yaser, Kasim, Raphael, Rossi and Branco will work.
Unlike recent encounters, the day broke with rain sleeting down. A planned display, painstakingly laid out by dedicated Oxford ultras had been vandalised by people using the act as a proxy for having a girlfriend or being happy. But, despite the setbacks, there was a calmness; the rain would come; the display would be fixed, the game would be played.
And the display was fixed; last year’s giant flag was a truly breathtaking spectacle, this was at least on a par. I’ve said several times that I want Oxford players to be able to look back on their time at the club as the best of their career. As the players came out, I saw Wes Thomas, a journeyman of the lower leagues looking up at the sea of flags. Is it possible that he’s seen anything like it? Is there a club the size of Oxford, or some considerable size larger, that can put on such a fan-driven display in the UK? The Swindon fans threw a few streamers and looked defeated by comparison.
For the first time this season we started with purpose, Lundstram snapped away in a midfield Swindon tried to flood. Rothwell looked more focussed and Sercombe is getting the freedom he needs to do what he does. This three-tiered midfield worked like a dream. By comparison the Swindon midfield wilted almost immediately.
Ultimately though, this was Chris Maguire’s show; he has the arrogance and ability to make this sort of game his own. There were times when it looked like the whole game had been scripted just to showcase his ability; enraging the Swindon fans, taunting their players with his passing and then scoring the goals that made the difference.
Yes, the penalty looked soft and there were some questionable decisions which went our way. MacDonald probably should have been sent off for his unnecessary challenge on Vigouroux. But, what got lost in the noise is that this was our best performance of the season and the first time things really clicked into place.  

Maguire’s second goal was no fluke; the pitch was wet and slippery and a well-timed challenge was always going to offer a chance. OK, Vigouroux with a bit of composure might have chosen to drag the ball back allowing Maguire to slide past harmlessly rather than attempting to launch it under pressure, but if Maguire’s connection had been a goal-saving block at the other end of the pitch, it would have been viewed a moment of true class.  Just because this was a goal scored, rather than a goal saved, doesn’t make it any less good.
And it was typical of Maguire, a demonstration of his class mixed with his ability to humiliate and demoralise the opposition. As we go higher up the league, this kind of savvy will be increasingly important.
Swindon by comparison look dead behind the eyes, not the vibrant seething beast of the Di Canio years, just a stagnating pool of ooze. They weren’t as bad as last year, but not far off. In the past, wins have felt like we were defeating a looming evil, but now it feels like defeating the common cold – once lethal, now moribund and benign.
Maybe they don’t feel the sense of occasion like we do, but if your opponents have a little extra purpose, you’ve got to find something to match it whatever the game. This isn’t us overstating the importance of the game, it’s just us enjoying the occasions that get presented to us in a way they clearly don’t. When they give up on games like this, you wonder how far their standards might drop.

By comparison, this was another calm execution of a well-planned process, dismantling their midfield and disrupting any game plan they might have had. 2012 may have been a high-energy rush of adrenalin, this was a demonstration of calm domination. For those of us who have watched these games for decades it feels odd to be in that position, but it’s no less satisfying because of it.  

Swindon Town wrap – Oxford United 2 Swindon Town 0

The news that James Roberts’ brother Ben had been killed in a road accident last weekend inevitably drew the comment that this was something that really puts football into perspective. It’s as if it’s not possible to calibrate the devastation and heartbreak of something like that against an arbitrary benchmark like football without it actually happening.

The club have chosen to hold a minute’s silence for the game against Wimbledon on Saturday rather before Tuesday’s derby. Maybe they couldn’t be sure that Swindon fans, with their emotional distance from the tragedy, would be able to put it into perspective after all?

It was difficult to contextualise the game in a number of ways. It was Swindon, our arch rivals, and we wanted to win, but it’s the JPT, nowhere near as important as the League. Winning would be great, but was defeat that bad? How far do you take the ‘hatred’ on this occasion? Enough for the game to be meaningful, but not enough for it to become a burden. It’s only the JPT and we had work, college and school in the morning.

Missing the point

Not everyone could rationalise it, of course. When someone smashes up a pub, hurting and scaring people in the name of their football club, is there a point afterwards when they quietly realise how utterly ridiculous they are?

Four arrests were made before the game; three were men over 40. There would be children and partners in their lives. Do they look at those people and think about what they’ve done? Do they think ‘why am I such a cretin?’ or is it ‘I’m such a hero for defending the honour of my football club’? How distorted do you have to be to think that? Presumably there is an motivation behind this, but when has anyone ever been impressed by a wheezing middle aged man breaking beer glasses and swearing indiscriminately? Do they ever think of the futility of it all?

Then there’s the daft charade of social media trolling where each side accuses the other of taking it too seriously. A game of one-downsmanship, if you like. The whole thing is a pantomime, but at the same time it has to mean something in order to be worth anything. Where’s the balance?

The big fans’ showdown came as the teams came out; a truly spectacular display in the East Stand which genuinely stunned in terms of scale and ambition. Our Swindon counterparts, who tried to drum up support for their display via social media and threatened to engulf the city in, um, stickers, unfurled some red and white ribbons which seemed to get tangled in the empty seats. They disappeared before the two teams had completed their handshakes while Oxford held firm.

Chasing shadows
A derby is won in the head; play to form and the result goes to form. But, if the occasion gets the better of you then you’re on a hiding to nothing. Perhaps the display helped secure the victory; confident, dominant, calm; both off and on the field.

We already knew they had problems, but I don’t think anyone anticipated just how big those problems were. They started OK, like a decent League 2 side; like Portsmouth, or us. Passing was crisp, movement was good, but we matched them and they didn’t look a threat. Then Turnbull was sent off and they fell apart alarmingly.

There was bickering all over the pitch – a casual disinterest in the fact their defences were being breached time and time again. Vigouroux’s performance in goal was the most bizarre. The bloke is clearly slightly nuts, but his display seemed to reflect externally what was going on inside his team-mates’ heads.

Of course, a sending off is a blow, but plenty of other teams have adapted to playing us with ten men and done well; as we did with them when James Constable was sent off in 2012. Maybe it was a combination of that, and their current form, and the display, and their injuries and their record against us specifically. They were in chaos, an absolute shambles; at no point did they regain any composure.

Think of Di Canio’s Swindon, or McMahon’s; that was like defeating a caged animal. But last night they whimpered and we passed it around them. Perhaps we were just brilliant and we’re not used being just brilliant, but the lack of fight, plan or purpose after the sending off was startling. It’s not bravado to say that this was one of the worst teams, of any flavour, we’ve ever seen at the Kassam.

We, on the other hand, swept them aside. Passing was expansive, defensively we were robust. We looked a threat down both flanks. Jordan Graham looks a winger in the Beauchamp or Allen mould. Everything was slick and positive; I can’t remember us outclassing a team like that before and for it to be League 1 club, and Them, makes it more special.

Making sense

I don’t like Swindon, it would be odd to have a rival that you did. Ultimately, it’s the rivalry I like; it’s probably the best derby in the lower leagues. I love the feeling of tension and the relief of victory, that it feels meaningful even when, ultimately, it probably isn’t.

We spend our lives putting things into context. Pretty much every job involves a process of rationalising and contextualising; making chaos and irrationality logical and systematic. Everything is a process of distilling things which are complex and difficult into a series of processes and procedures.

To be able to indulge in something as absurd as a football rivalry, and the joy and despair that comes with that is a luxury. It makes no sense outside the bubble of the rivalry and nor should it. Football doesn’t exist to put the death of a young man into context; no thinking person needs football to remind them of that. Football exists because senseless, pointless and frankly depressing things happen and it gives us a glimmer of purpose and hope to prevent us all from going completely mad.

Coming up: Swindon Town

The drop

Most games need context, some can exist in a vacuum; Oxford v Swindon in the JPT is very much the latter. This is not about progression in the tournament, it’s not even about settling any scores, it’s just an opportunity to dook it out with an old friend. A bar brawl rather than an officially sanctioned prize-fight. That’s figuratively, not literally, if you’re a hoolie moron.
There are those who talk about this being a distraction. If it is, then you would have to question our mental capacity to get promoted in the first place. What’s more, it’s here, it’s happening, we’ve got to deal with it.

I’ve been watching Oxford for over 30 years, I’ve seen one Milk Cup and four promotions; that’s a paltry return. Nine derby victories improves that return on investment considerably. We don’t play each other very often; we might as well enjoy it.

Any other business

Let’s be honest, we’re not getting much work done over the next couple of days are we? Whatever it is that you do, and let’s face it, most of us do nothing of any particular value to mankind, can wait until tomorrow. Or, if we win, it can wait until the day after that. So, why not use up the spare time you’ve got to read the Oxblogger series: 30 years of the Swindon Derby.

Old game of the day

So many to choose from; Wilder’s trilogy of wins? the 3-0 Beauchamp-inspired triumph of 1996? Too easy. How about this one? The good old days were rapidly coming to an end in 1999, we’d bought Dean Windass with money we didn’t have, the Manor was falling apart and a saviour by the name of Firoz Kassam was on the horizon.

But, this was a whole heap of fun.

From the blog

This got 3,500 views and was picked up by the Guardian:

“It’s not a rivalry based on class or religion or economics, but on football, two teams that have grown to dislike each other on the football field and in the stands. Important only to those involved. Outsiders are not welcome. Perhaps it’s the intimacy of the fixture, and the ambivalence of everyone else, that makes it so intense. When you’re stuck in a vacuum nobody hears you scream, so you might as well scream at each other.”

Read on

7 step guide to winning a derby

There have been better performances and bigger results, but has there ever been a better story behind a game of football involving Oxford United?

Your dad will tell you stories of past games involving mythical beasts and feats of derring-do. You’ll listen in awe when you’re young, but as you get older, you’ll begin to question how close to the facts the story actually is.

Saturday’s game is the story you tell your children and grandchildren. And you won’t have to make up a word of it.

But how, playing the best team in the league, in the richest vein of form in their history, with a team stripped of most of our best players, did we actually win on Saturday? Here’s Oxblogger’s 7 step guide to our derby victory.

Paolo is a fascist. Fact. A cheap shot?

No, fascism is an ideology promoting unity through hard work and intolerance of non-compliance. Di Canio’s leadership philosophy inevitably draws on his deep-seated principles. After our win at the County Ground he admitted an admirable need to learn from the experience. His public spat with Leon Clarke earlier in the season resulted from Clarke’s reluctance to put in the work Di Canio demanded. Work and continuous improvement are basic principles of fascism. You won’t get many fans resisting calls for unity and hard work from their manager; you don’t have to be a fascist to be intoxicated by that dogma if you find success.

However, extreme ideologies assume stability, they promote a single path to a single destination. They assume unquestionably, that the path and destination are pre-determined. Their intolerant response to uncertainty is to reinstate the ideology through force, that is plan B. Compliance can justifiably be achieved through violence, if you’re a fascist. When violence isn’t an option, and things change, there isn’t a plan B.

As we will see, things changed a lot during the build up to, and the course of, the derby.

Swindon’s form
A lot was made of Swindon’s 10-game winning streak; a club record. Logically, this put them into a strong position going into Saturday’s game. But they’d never been in that position before, no manager in their history had been in that position before. The longer any record breaking run goes on the more likely it is to end. Each game brings new pressures that have never been experienced, by anyone, before.

The opposition’s attitude changes, complacency creeps in, tiredness, mental fatigue. As the challenges get more complicated the central tenet of Di Canio’s ideology, hard work, is not the only solution. The last thing you need during a record run is a rabid derby atmosphere introducing more variables. At their peak when they were apparently at their strongest, Swindon were increasingly vulnerable.

Peter Leven’s injury
Peter Leven has become a focal point of a lot of what we do. He’s in a goal of the season competition, he trends on Twitter, he takes all our set pieces, he’s a creative spark. Other players look to him, the fans look to him.

The early announcement of his injury last week served to change expectations; we wouldn’t win the game playing the Leven way because he wouldn’t be there. Without Leven, nobody knew how we’d beat Swindon. Some believed we couldn’t win. Di Canio; whose strengths of motivation through application, requires a stable environment, didn’t know either. Paradoxically, Leven’s injury played into Chris Wilder’s hands.

Jake Wright’s injury
After the Leven announcement, Jake Wright’s injury flew under the radar. Wright’s leadership skills are without parallel at Oxford. You rarely see a player so in control of his team. However, he also likes to play football, some of his passing along the back line is hair raising.

Wright’s injury allowed Whing to slot into the back-four. That changed the dynamic considerably. Whing is a no-nonsense fighter, he and Duberry set a different tone that spread throughout the team. Anthony Tonkin, lackadaisical in the Conference, suddenly became a ferocious pitbull. The back-four weren’t going to play football, they were going to block and clear their lines. The Oxford that we’ve been watching all season, was not the Oxford that appeared on Saturday.

Swindon fans
They may claim otherwise, but this was a big game. For many of us, our only interaction with the police is getting frustrated when they get stuck in the Tesco self-scan aisle buying a mid-shift chocolate bar. The neutralised zone built around the away end and coach loads of Swindon fans being escorted by a phalanx of police horses fed a frenzied atmosphere. We know that elements of both sides stepped beyond the mark; but overall, it was a fantastic spectacle.

They’ve got the LDV Autowindscreen Simod Cup Final and the prospect of the title. You can argue until you’re blue in the face as to which is most important. But, they won’t have a bigger, or more rarefied league game all year. This wasn’t conclusive proof that we are best; it was just another chapter in a saga.

In the same way that Celtic need a strong Rangers to thrive, Swindon and Oxford benefit from each others’ presence. The derby has defined our season both on and off the pitch. It was only because it was Swindon that things turned out like they did. 

James Constable’s sending off
Constable’s profile within this fixture had grown some way beyond what he (or anyone) could influence on the pitch. Everyone interprets things beyond what they see. Constable’s challenge on Devera was not malicious, it was barely worthy of a yellow card. The referee interpreted the reaction of the Swindon fans, players and the fact it was Constable to conclude that this was an aggressive action from a player who’d been affected by the pressure that surrounded him. Had it been any other player on the pitch, they wouldn’t have been sent off.

Constable’s departure left Rendell up front on his own. All he had to do was hold the ball when it came to him, he did it magnificently. My man of the match. Di Canio had put so much emphasis on Constable, when he was no longer there, Swindon struggled to know who to worry about. We became a multi-headed beast for about five minutes. Johnson, Holmes and Asa Hall weren’t in Di Canio’s play book. Oxford, fierce local rivals playing in front of a massive partisan home crowd, were playing like an away team with players Di Canio had never seen before.

He didn’t react, he panicked. The situation was different to the one he’d planned. He substituted Cibocchi for Smith, and then Smith for Cox. They kept playing deep balls to the back post in the first half and passed and passed and passed to no great effect in the second. Had we gone at them, they may have picked us off. Had things gone through Leven and Constable, they’d have stifled that because it was too obvious. If we’d played the way we want to play, it wouldn’t have been as effective and the crowd would have got frustrated. As the situation changed, Chris Wilder was the one who reacted and the fans recognised the role they had to play. Wembley taught us that victory comes from patience.

Oxford United
Stripped of Wright and Leven plus Davis and Potter. Down to ten men through the loss of our talismanic striker after 10 minutes. With our match winning goalkeeper suffering cramp throughout the second half. Playing the league leaders on a 10 game winning streak in a local derby. The prospect of a draw, let alone a win, was distant to say the least.

They say that you can judge a team by its strength on the substitute’s bench – of the 10 players on the pitch; seven wouldn’t have been in the team had we played at Christmas. 3 wouldn’t have been in the team on Friday. You don’t throw those players together in that environment against that side and accidentally beat them.

This was the victory of a deep, cohesive and motivated squad, moulded by Wilder and funded by Thomas, who has created an off-the-pitch set up dedicated to winning games (yes, I mean you East Stand ball boys).

Di Canio’s Swindon is a good side, the best technical side we’ve faced. They weren’t as effective or efficient as Cheltenham, but they’re still likely champions. However, they are built on a simplistic utilitarian ideology that was exposed on Saturday lunch time because the world is not simple and things change. Yes, we won the derby, yes, we won the double. But more than both of those we demonstrated emphatically what the new Oxford United philosophy is about.

30 years of the Swindon derby – part 5

The first ever FA Cup tie between the sides was shown live on TV. The BBC, constrained by their contract to show games from the early rounds, seemed shocked to discover a game that had purpose and meaning.

The ground was full and noisey, into the cauldron of hate entered an insane warrior with a maniacal look on his face, the tension that had hung over the fixture exploded, spitting its venom across the stadium. Weeks of malice, weeks of fans exchanging abuse, and now this. He sprinted unabated at the Swindon fans shaking his fists? A man hiding behind an allegiance to a football club, kissing the badge on his shirt, hollering his manic ramblings through his beak.
Ronny the rocking Robin was Swindon’s mascot; a six foot three inch robin sprinting around, sliding on his knees, banging on advertising hoardings and leading the away fans’ singing. Quite frankly, he pissed all over Ollie the Ox.
You’ve got to give them their victories when they deserve them, I suppose.
Three years earlier I’d stood on the terraces at the Manor with chest pains as we narrowly avoided relegation. A year later we shipped 100 goals, were relegated by April and I was shrouded with a simple gloom. I’d been feeding my habit with an evermore dirty, diluted drug. Each time I used it I hoped for one of those old buzzes, each time I was left sullied and unfulfilled.
Ten minutes before  kick-off the air was filled with Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, it was ear splitting. Then they put on some Euro pop and the stadium began to jump, the whole place began to sing, and wave, and dance. The stand shuddered under my feet. That used to happen at the Manor, but that was because it was about to fall down, this was because there was a wall of noise enveloping the whole stadium.
A lump came to my throat.
I’d watched Oxford since I was three, seen them at Wembley, seen them beat Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea but in the last four years I’d watched the club die under the weight of crippling debt and piss poor karma. I stood on the terraces seeing the sands of the club’s life slip through my fingers. Then, suddenly, it woke up again, and I had no idea how much it meant to me.
We hadn’t even kicked off.
We played like an away side, absorbing pressure – although we were top of Division 4 at the time, Swindon were flying high in Division 3. At half time Mark Lawrenson urged Oxford to show some ambition. The game was there for the taking.
We didn’t. Ian Atkins’ teams didn’t do that. We played for territory in the hope that the platform of a set piece might offer an opportunity. Just after the hour mark Scott McNiven lobbed a throw into the box which was flicked on by Jefferson Louis. Steve Basham ghosted across the six yard line, but failed to make contact, the inadvertent feint deceived the Swindon keeper and the ball bounced gently into the bottom left hand corner.
We’d secured another famous win. There was delirium. The 3rd Round draw plucked out an away tie at Arsenal. The team showed their decorum with Louis jumping butt naked through the Oxford dressing room. Characteristically, Atkins responded to the draw with something like ‘I feel like a 5-4-1 coming on’. A joke for the football tactics nerds, which says it all really.
I thought this was the beginning of the big revival. Firoz Kassam had actually got it right. He’d taken a lot of flack getting there, but I began to think that perhaps he was deserving of his success.
But, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, it proved a mere moment of sobriety before the grip of our disease tightened once again. The derby was once again packed away, this time for nearly a decade, the longest of hiatus of them all. We headed off to the wilderness, they were stuck in lower-league meaningless.
In 2011 the rivalry roared back, stronger than ever. The parallels with 1996 are evident, both sides entered the season with aspirations of promotion and we had another toy to squabble over. For Beauchamp read James Constable, who Swindon relentlessly, and unsuccessfully, pursued. We won at the County Ground – but I’ve done that to death already.
Which takes us up to Saturday. Over the last 17 years – since the tumult of the 1995/6 promotion season – Oxford have edged the head to head results, whereas Swindon have enjoyed  more overall success, which is not saying much. Which is more important depends on your viewpoint, of course. For me, a derby is all about the head to head, but I would say that.
The derby is in rude health; both sides are on an upward curve and we’ve had a jolly good squabble over James Constable, which will surely be a focal point of Saturday’s fixture. We’re losing key players hand over fist and Paolo DiCanio offers an angle to the disinterested media. It augers well for an absolute ripsnorter.