Cheltenham 1 Yellows 1

I sometimes wonder whether it’s time for the country to start thinking about its retirement. We’ve been very successful, way more successful than our size would indicate.

The recession did it for me; I decided that I’d had enough of trying to keep up with roaring house price inflation and buying the biggest fucking car someone else will finance for you at an astronomical APR. Instead, the attraction of a quieter more localised happiness grew ever more compelling.

On Tuesday night we sold out the away end at Cheltenham whilst at Chelsea, Stamford Bridge was noticeably empty for their Champions League tie against Marseille.

Let’s face it, there were still a lot of people watching Chelsea, but this is a club and competition that anjoys blanket media coverage, whilst Cheltenham v Oxford is an early season local skirmish of two mid-table teams. Pound for pound, Cheltenham v Oxford was a more popular gig on the night.

I was at home but couldn’t be bothered to watch the WORLD’S BIGGEST CLUB COMPETITION. It wasn’t just the distraction of our game. I couldn’t be bothered to watch Manchester United the next day either. And, judging by the empty seats in Valencia neither could many others.

Perhaps it means nothing; but perhaps it means there’s shifting sand. Maybe people are fed up with trying to be absolutely humungous and, instead, are looking at things that make us happy in a more modest, but ultimately more rewarding way. Perhaps seeing a team working hard and being rewarded in the surrounds of Whaddon Road makes us happier than the predictable pantomimes of the so-called best.

Pre-season – on the pitch

Pre-season has been like going to a gig of your new favourite band. Not during the tour to support their multi-platinum selling breakthrough album, you couldn’t get tickets for that one. This is the tour for the much-anticipated follow-up; arenas and stadiums only. Like Blur touring The Great Escape, or Stone Roses with the Second Coming, or Nirvana with In Utero.

The 6-2 defeat to Didcot is the new album’s big opening number, not necessarily the best song but one that gives you a sense that you’re listening to something big. The 2-0 victory over Dumbarton is the new album’s first single. A big hit simply off the back of the previous album’s success. The band’s artistic input has been curtailed by the record company who want more of what made the first album successful. It’s our Country House, a good song, but nothing new. A reminder of why you’re a fan.

Livingston and Winchester are the songs from the new album that made you realise that the new album is, well, just a bit boring and pedestrian.

As the crowd are thinking about heading to the bar, they play Leicester, the big breakthrough single, our Wonderwall. Suddenly everything is bouncing again.

Brackley is a forgettable ballad, then Manchester United XI is the big anthemic hit. A 12 minute set closer. You’re buzzing, what a tune. The lights go down. Bring on the encore, it’s going to be amazing.

Sadly, the band come back on to play Oxford City, a cover version of an old punk classic involving some guest who is probably the drummer of the support band on mouth organ. It wasn’t really the kick-ass encore you were expecting, but you cheer politely in anticipation of the big finale.

Instead, they play Banbury, a sentimental acoustic number they’ve been writing on the tour bus. It’s a paean to the lead singers’ dead grandma. It doesn’t really have a hook or chorus and nobody’s ever heard it before. Quite frankly it won’t even make the next album, it might, possibly, make the bonus CD of the 10 anniversary reissue of the big breakthrough album. The band depart satisfied they’ve discharged their artistic responsibilities. We, on the other hand, go home a little short changed.

So pre-season has passed me by a little. But so did the World Cup and Tour de France in what should have been a top summer of sport. But then, from time to time, I think of Wembley and still get a little frisson of excitement. And then I realise that in the past the summer has been a break from the drudgery of the season and the pre-season campaign has been for vainly trying to spot signs of recovery. This season, however, the recovery is underway and the summer is just a pause in the story. Screw pre-season, I just want to get going again.

News round-up: Man who?

There was a degree of derision on the messageboards about the visit of Manchester United (XI) yesterday. Of course nobody was seduced by a visitation of ‘Manure’, they were all there on some sort of fan-based scouting mission to undertake a root abd branch analysis of the current pre-season progress of the home team.

Truth is, whilst the Manchester United team on show yesterday probably represent some of the finest young talent in the country, most of them have probably already missed the boat of being Manchester United first-teamers.

One or two might make it to the fringes of the squad, whilst others will become vaguely recognisable names from early rounds of the Carling Cup. A small number will eventually be sold off for an over inflated fee to a Championship side. Some will probably make it to the likes of Bury and Tranmere or earn a small summer wage as a Manchester United ‘Legend’ in the Sky Sports Masters. The rest will impress girls with their inflated stories of training with Ronaldo, whilst holding their stomachs in and pretending not to be a plumber or painter decorator.

This is not a team of future superstars, because, by their age, they should already be on lucrative pre-season tours of South Africa with the first team. Which raises the question as to why over 6,000 people made it to yesterday’s 2-2 draw. In short, everyone is enticed by the Manchester United brand, which rather like Coca Cola and MacDonalds, is probably why we hate it so much.

Not much else has been going on, apart from a procession of new goalkeepers – the last two seasons we’ve been cursed by striking, is this a sign that the curse has focussed itself at the other end of the pitch?

The other main piece of news is that Adam Murray is the new captain. In some ways, not a surprise; he was a highly influential figure towards the end of last season. However, we must question what Barry Quinn did wrong. Perhaps nothing – but maybe, with Willmott and Foster fit, Darren Patterson is struggling to find a regular spot for him in the first team.

Comment: Oxford in the global football market place

Watching the Champions League Final and preparing to renew my season ticket made me ponder the question; “Can you support a football club without liking football?”

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Champions League final; as previous Chelsea v Manchester United encounters have been soporific. I also find it kind of depressing that one country should dominate a Europe-wide competition. In addition I rarely watch Premiership football and sensed a certain amount of relief that England are not participating in Euro 2008.

Firstly, the hyperbole gets me down. Yes, the Champions League Final was a great game, but it wasn’t representative of top flight football. My dad claimed that the Portsmouth v Cardiff Cup Final was ‘as bad as it promised to be’… to which I pointed out that it wasn’t as bad as the 2007 final between supposedly superior teams. Quality does not equal entertainment in football as much as the marketing tells you otherwise.

Secondly, top flight football has a level of tactical sophistication I can barely comprehend. It’s like Formula 1 racing – on the surface nothing ever happens, but someone wins in the end.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I no longer want to see Oxford playing in the top flight again. If we do, it will mean that we’re either being humiliated or we’re owned by a remote billionaire set on developing our brand for the global market place.

Perhaps it’s that the Premiership is unobtainable. Although, the recent experience of Reading and Hull, teams we’ve shared a league with in the last 1o years, suggest perhaps this isn’t true. But, if before I die, Oxford are playing in the Championship and we make a cup final (or even semi-final), I will be fully sated.

This might be a lack of ambition and one day I may find myself trekking to some Enormodome to see us lift the Champions League, but I think that it’s more likely that I’m de-coupling with a football brand I struggle to engage with.