Jedward orphan, Mark Sykes has been given clearance to play for the Republic of Ireland after turning his back on the Northern Ireland faster than a braying tax-avoiding Brexit billionaire. “Clearance came through a month ago.” he said. Sykes is looking forward to pulling on the famous emerald green shirt just as soon as Sports Direct in Botley is back open so he can go and buy one.
Monday 19 January 2021
It was revealed on Monday that the Kassam Stadium is set to become a Covid vaccine centre. For most, being vaccinated will be a straightforward process of having a painless injection in their upper arm. However, Oxford United fans will also be offered The David Kemp Special, which is for those who prefer to stick needles in their eyes.
KRob is bamboozled by the format of the Papa Johns Trophy; there are unconfirmed reports that we’re now in the quarter-finals and could face trips to Hull City, Tranmere Rovers or Sunderland. The draw is on Saturday live on Babestation or something. “It doesn’t make sense” said KRob salivating over his takeaway menu; “Even I wouldn’t go to Sunderland for a Chilli Freak pizza with a side order of Marmite and cheese scrolls and a large diet coke.”
Friday 23 January 2021
Former football club and now internet heritage brand Oxford United are alleged to be coming out of retirement for a game against Bristol Rovers. Rovers are managed by rejected Peaky Blinders character Paul Tisdale who is expecting the game to be ‘fluid’. Matty Taylor returns to his old club. Tisdale, an out-of-the-box thinker, is planning to stop Taylor by waiting until after the game to look back to see if he stopped him. “He is a threat.” he said adjusting his baker boy cap and straightening his cravat “how we quantify that, let’s talk about that in hindsight once we’ve done a job to stop him being a threat.” Smart.
During the Conference years I’d get a mild anxiety about us scoring in the first eight minutes of a home game. My routine was so established that 3.08pm was when I finished my pre-match coffee meaning holding a hot drink as Matt Green gave us early lead would have me at sixes and sevens.
There were far fewer disruptions to the pre-match routine in those days; you could park in the same spot, rarely had to queue and there were fewer people to bump into. I could leave my house at 2pm confident in the knowledge that by 3.08pm I’d be draining the last of my cup.
Now the matchday routine is determined by a long list of Covid rules, so many that I was worried that I might miss some. I suspect Covid rules are like the old saying about advertising; we know that only some of it works, which just don’t know which bits. While face masks and social distancing are clearly effective, I suspect the benefits of not throwing a ball back to a player is marginal. All in all, now is not the time to quibble, let’s just do everything to sort this out and figure out the science later.
Returning to the Kassam on Tuesday night wasn’t quite the fantasy I’d imagined when the lockdown first happened. I’d pictured a jubilant, throbbing crowd full of dashing Brycreamed Tommys kissing unsuspecting landgirls in bright red lipstick in the street. Somewhere between VE Day and Rochdale at home.
Instead, the return is necessarily cautious and gradual, the virus won’t surrender, it needs to be killed off and that takes time. I was torn between wanting to get back to football and it shattering my illusions by being awkward and underwhelming. I figured I needed to lean into it, surrender myself to the rules which are there for a far greater good.
It’s an undoubtedly a more sanitised experience, the pre-match hubbub is missing; the bubbling of conversation isn’t there, simply standing together is a risk so everything is geared towards funnelling you to and from your seat. Nathan Cooper takes to the PA to warn people against facing each other when going to the toilet creating a troubling mental image of people peeing on each others shoes in the gents.
Ultimately, compliance is absolute and not a burden. No liberties are being taken away although wearing a mask with glasses is a challenge. When I secure my mask tightly enough, it minimises the misting, but doesn’t stop it completely. For much of the game it feels like I’m watching through a thin fog, which is just preferable to following a number of vividly coloured blobs chasing a small white blob around a big green blob.
The atmosphere, though, feels familiar and genuine, voices aren’t as muffled as you’d think so despite its size, it feels like a proper crowd. It helps that fans are spread across all three stands creating an illusion of being more than the permitted two thousand that are here. With people sat in their bubbles, there’s no artificial symmetry you see at some games with fans regimentally sat in vertical rows one behind another. It all helps.
It’s the gaps where you really notice the difference. There’s usually a continuous ambient hum from the crowd, but when the action lulls, the stadium falls into near silence. It does give you an opportunity to hear the players and managers going about their business. I’m struck by Elliott Moore barking instructions at Alex Gorrin by calling him ‘Alex’ rather than ‘Gorro’ or some culturally appropriated nickname, like ‘Manuel’.
At one point the Northampton keeper launches the mother of all Hail Mary goal kicks deep into the Oxford half. The Cobblers manager Keith Curle screams ‘GO! GO! GO!’ at his front four as they chase the ball, trying to locate it dropping from the sky like happy labradors in a park. Sophisticated, this is not.
Curiously, I found I can read a lot from the general noise of the crowd, not just the roar of a goal or chance, but the less obvious hum. Normally, you can sense a change in atmosphere towards half-time, the sound of thousands of people trying to organise who’s buying the Bovril and what flavour crisps you want – which is always ‘whatever they’ve got, but not prawn cocktail’. During the first half I realise without those audible signals, I lose track of where in the game we’re at.
At the start, the players dribble out onto the pitch without fanfare. The taking of the knee can look tokenistic on TV but feels real and necessary in real life. Mide Shodipo holds his fist in the air, a reminder to the almost exclusively white crowd that this stuff happens to him and people like him. Racism not some abstract notion invented to annoy white people, it’s very real. Taking the knee is a political statement, make no bones about it, its message is to force change, those claiming to misinterpret it are choosing that path. It’s not simpering left wing woke-ism, people are bored of this shit. Taking the knee reminds us to make good decisions.
Once the game gets going, you realise it’s the immersive wide screen 4k experience of being there that you’ve missed the most. Going to games allows you to appreciate the endeavour and effort, even in a strange way, the pettiness. At one point a Northampton player throws the ball away while the referee isn’t watching and we are appalled and outraged, someone behind me calls the referee a ‘prick’; it’s great.
At first the performance mirrors the atmosphere, it’s good but a little disjointed, like we’re still trying to get the glue to set on this team. Marcus McGuane is a bull in ballet shoes; he looks like he should be used as a battering ram, but there’s a cultured ball player trying to get out, he just seems to lack a decisiveness which will turn his good work into chances. It’s not just the new players, James Henry seems a bit lost in the margins and Matty Taylor is either isolated or disengaged. It’s all not quite happening.
On the touchline, though, Karl Robinson seems calm, his only animation is due to his exasperation towards the referee, but he doesn’t seem overly concerned. As with last season, it needs something, or someone, to bond all the good stuff together.
It comes, perhaps surprisingly, from Sean Clare, John Mousinho’s half-time replacement. Mousinho, it’s reported, is walking a tight rope, with the prospect of season ending surgery should his knee give way. When he goes down holding it, some assume his career is over. Robinson afterwards says Mousinho feels he was letting the side down. His performance doesn’t come across like that, but perhaps his body is just not doing what he wants anymore. It reminds me of one of Wayne Brown’s last games where his playing career seemed to end in front of our eyes, we chastised him in frustration, but it must have been awful for him.
It takes bravery to get down the flanks when you’re a full-back, you need to trust your team mates to cover for you and not berate you if you mess up, Clare seems to be growing in confidence and glides down the flank looping a ball to the back post for Matty Taylor to nod home for the first goal. The squad head to Clare rather than Taylor to congratulate him, then everyone comes together, bringing Clare into the fold gives us cohesion.
From then on, it becomes comfortable, Shodipo seems to only score one type of goal; cutting in from the left and sending a bouncing bomb into the bottom right hand corner for 2-0. Dan Agyei comes on and crosses with his first touch for Matty Taylor to head home the third. The two crosses from Agyei and Clare are so good, Taylor almost seems embarrassed to take the glory of putting the ball in the net, though there’s plenty for him to do on both occasions.
By this point we’re totally outclassing our opponents, confidence and the fluidity of last season is back. Josh Ruffels seems to be playing the role of jazz full-back, a defender who is given licence too act as an improvised attacking force with a free reign.
Then, into injury time Agyei picks the ball up again, glides past two players and bends in the fourth. It’s reminiscent of the win against West Ham with the joy of a perfect finale, the best goal of the night. Altogether it’s a thoroughly satisfying and convincing win; it’s not West Ham, of course, it’s Northampton Town, and while, in many ways, this falls short of the glory of that night, in others, given the intervening 291 days since I was last here, it’s better.
Afterwards we’re funnelled back out of the ground, the players are clapping the fans, but the steward needs us out so I’m gone before they get to us. Once out of the stadium, out of the grips of The Rules, people remove their masks and trudge back to their cars, I’ve missed that trudge more than I could have imagined. We’re not quite back in the old routine yet, but just being back will do for now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s nothing better than a new kit; so the summer is new kit Christmas. Nearly everyone have revealed their kit for the new season. I’ll keep updating this post with new designs as they’re revealed. Here’s what we have so far…
Accrington are punching above their weight adopting Adidas as their kit manufacturer. Thankfully they’ve managed to bring the tone down a notch or two with an experimental dotty sleeve. It’s let Accrington down, it’s let Adidas down, but most of all, it’s let the lovely white shirt down.
We’re all shocked to our core with Blackpool’s new shirt; tangerine with white trim, like every Blackpool shirt in history. That said, it’s a nice enough design. Eagled eyed among you will see this template replicated elsewhere. In the least shocking news ever the away shirt is a simple reverse out of the home version.
The key to any artistic process is to know when to stop. Bristol Rovers have an iconic kit and it shouldn’t be difficult to pull a decent shirt out of the bag. This version has funny cuffs, collar, stripe down the arm, what appears to be some kind of camo shadowing. The second kit goes some way to redeeming things, but not much.
Burton Albion may be the most forgettable team in the division, and their new home shirt lives up to that reputation. One of this season’s trends is the re-introduction of the button collar, which we can all agree is a travesty. And yet, the away kit is so awful, apparently modelled on the faux medical uniform of a cosmetic surgery nurse, that the button may just improve it.
Without doubt Charlton have bigger problems than providing a decent new kit. The home shirt looks like every Charlton kit ever released, while the away shirt is probably a reflection of the mood around the club.
Crewe’s return to League 1 is marked by a retro red and black number, but it’s the away kit which is of most note, appearing to take inspiration from their shirt sponsor Mornflake Mighty Oats.
Thankfully Doncaster Rovers’ new shirt is identical to every Doncaster Rovers home shirt of the last decade. The red and white hoops are a classic not to be messed with. The away kit is also pretty sweet; maybe the best combo in the division?
To some people, the fact that Fleetwood Town exist and are managed by Joey Barton is confusing enough. This kit, which seems to adopt about nine different styles in one, is a proper head scrambler. The away kit, however, works really nicely – silver and mint, who knew?
Bit of an odd one this; Gillingham are perhaps the most meh team in League 1, and it appears that they’re sticking with the same kit as last season. It’s OK, Macron, the manufacturer, have a nice style about them. You could describe this as a bit meh, really.
Like all the teams coming down from the Championship, Hull have been slow to release their new shirt. The result is an unremarkable number, saved largely by the fact that it’s Umbro, giving it a nice traditional feel. The third kit (no second kit that I can ascertain) is a bit of an oddity; when I first saw it, I really liked it and thought it was one of the nicest in the division, then I looked again and find it a bit boring.
A tale of two shirts for Ipswich Town. An absolute beauty for the home shirt reminiscent of their heyday in the 1980s under Bobby Robson. The away shirt looks like someone has washed it with a tissue in the pocket.
Lincoln City play a classic card with their new shirt. There are few teams that wear red and white stripes who haven’t gone for the disruptive inverted colourway at some point. There will be Lincoln fans everywhere tearing up their season tickets at the abomination, but I like it. The away number is solid but unremarkable.
A solid home option for MK Dons, but you can’t deny they work hard to be the most despicable team in the league, the away shirt is black with gold trim? What are they? A Bond villain? Yes, yes they are.
I’ve always felt that Hummel offer a hipster’s choice when it comes to shirt manufacturing; typically because of their excellent work on the Danish national shirts in the mid-80s. I’ve also always liked Northampton’s colours. So, put together should be a sure fire winner. the away kit is OK until you look more closely, the strange central dribble, the fading pin stripes. They get away with it, but only just.
Look closely, well not that closely, and you’ll see the new Oxford shirt is the same Puma template as Blackpool and Swindon. Rumour has it that in real life it adopts the geometric pattern of the Peterborough shirt. It’s OK, for a title winning shirt.
Last season Puma made a big deal of their sublimated flux shirt designs, this year seems to have some kind of geometric update. There are randomised white flecks in there as well. A real nearly, but not quite design, a bit like Peterborough. The away shirt utilises the 437th Puma template of the division, and it’s a bit of a cracker, while nothing screams ‘Revenge season’ then a neon pink third kit.
Plymouth return to League 1 with a couple of scorchers. The home shirt is spoilt a bit with what appears to be a button collar, the away kit is absolutely magnificent. It’s difficult to imagine under what circumstances they would need a third kit, but it ticks some boxes.
One of the big favourites for the League 1 title next season have opted for a pretty conservative upgrade. What the heck is with that collar though? I quite like the away shirt with its white shadow stripes, it reminds me of our own away kit from the mid-eighties. Was there a three for two offer at Sports Direct? The unnecessary third kit looks like a reboot of our 2013/14 Animalates shirt.
You might call it armageddon chic; there’s a theme in a lot of kits where they’ve taken their standard design and given it a twist. Quite often it’s such a twist it comes off completely. Rochdale are just about the right side of acceptable with the blurred lined and shredded but at the top.
Aficionados of League 1 kit launches will know that Shrewsbury specialise in producing terrible promotional photography. For evidence try this, this or even this.This year is no different. Still, they get bonus points for adopting Admiral as their kit manufacturer. The away shirt takes inspiration from Oxford’s purple years when we were sponsored by Isinglass.
Our friends up the A420 have selected yet another Puma kit variation. How many templates does one manufacturer need? It’s a nice and simple design, ruined by the addition of a Swindon Town badge. The away shirt could not be less imaginative if it tried.
Let’s not kid ourselves; all teams use standard templates, but Sunderland’s new Nike shirt absolutely screams ‘park football’. The away shirt is Portsmouth’s home shirt in a different colour way, but that’s OK, I quite like it.
I was genuinely sad when I saw this; Wigan’s kit feels like a club that’s fallen apart with the off-the-peg template and the ironed-on ‘sponsor’ (let’s assume the Supporters Club have not paid a penny for this).
Have Wimbledon given up? They seem so bored with life they can’t be bothered to feature a decent logo of their sponsor and what can you say about the diagonal shadow stripe? They seem to trump it with the away shirt, which is going some. A shirt that screams relegation.
There’s no such thing as a good FA Cup 2nd Round game; it doesn’t have the anticipation of the 1st Round, nor the prospective glory of the 3rd Round. Although sometimes it’s OK.
2018 Plymouth Argyle 2-1
2018/19 was a difficult season, particularly on the road; we couldn’t buy a win until late in the season. There was a grim inevitability about our trip to Plymouth in November. Or was there?
2013 – Wrexham 2-1
After a delayed 1st Round game at Gateshead, we faced Wrexham just four days later. It looked like we might end up on the end of a giant killing until James Constable sparked a revival.
2012 – Accrington Stanley 3-3
So much more than a game. After it was announced that former Oxford player Mitchell Cole had died from the heart condition, we headed to Accrington Stanley for a tie which just wouldn’t let up. 2-1 down with four minutes to go, 3-2 down 2 minutes into injury time, then Michael Raynes popped up at the back post. A game of pure spirit. Afterwards Chris Wilder was absolutely magnificent.
2002 – Swindon Town 1-0
OK, sometimes the second round can serve up something special. Swindon Town visited the Kassam for the first time in 2003. It was Jefferson Louis who stole the show glancing home the winner. Then he immortalised himself in Oxford folk lore being filmed naked live on TV while celebrating our third round draw with Arsenal.
1995 – Northampton Town 2-0
A couple of weeks after beating Dorchester 9-1 in the first round, Northampton came to The Manor. The win catapulted us forward to a memorable cup run and, in the league, promotion.
We all know that the Kassam Stadium is the ground we love to call home, a place where dreams happen. Mostly, those dreams involve wistfully staring over to the Vue cinema wishing you were watching the latest blockbuster, not another defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers. But, sometimes we (nearly) fill the place. And when we (nearly) fill the place, we always lose. Or do we? Here are the Kassam’s top ten biggest crowds (excluding Elton John gigs).
12,243, Oxford United 2 Leyton Orient 3, 6 May 2006
During the World Cup of Kassam Stadium Games in 2018, this game did surprisingly badly. OK, the result wasn’t the best, a 2-3 defeat that relegated us from the Football League, but it was febrile, visceral and ugly, an absolutely brutal afternoon not helped by the fact I arrived late having not slept all night due to the birth of my eldest daughter that morning. It was quite a day which, strangely, I loved.
12,177 – Oxford United 0 Aston Villa 3, League Cup, 6 November 2006
Technically the Kassam has a capacity of 12,500, but it doesn’t account for segregation. Drawing Premier League Aston Villa in the League Cup was an early tester for handling larger crowds. It turned out we couldn’t, largely putting paid to future crowds of over 12,000. It was pretty grim, fans ended up breaking through the doors under the North Stand. On the pitch it wasn’t much better as Andy Woodman had a stinker for the first two goals before Homes Under the Hammer’s Dion Dublin hammered home in the closing minutes.
11,963 – Oxford United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 0, 2010
11,815 – Oxford United 3 Wycombe Wanderers 0, 7 May 2016
The best game we’ve ever had at The Kassam, according to the World Cup of Kassam Stadium Games. A beautiful sunny day in which we swept to promotion on a tidal wave, following a year in which we fell in love with the club again. A slightly nervy but ultimately comfortable first half ended 0-0, then Chris Maguire swung in a corner, Chey Dunkley crashed through a crowd of players, connecting with the ball and slamming it into the back of the net. Maguire made things safe with a penalty with 20 minutes to go. In injury time Callum O’Dowda danced his way through the Wycombe defence, which was already on its second sangria in Torremolinos, to slot home the third. Bliss.
11,810 – Oxford United 3 Newcastle United 0, 28 January 2017
In some ways, this had ‘meh’ written all over it (see Blackburn). Newcastle were a decent home draw in the FA Cup, but were focussing on promotion back to the Premier League. An FA Cup tie was always likely to be a low priority. What’s more, with their resources, even a weakened side had the potential to sweep us away without a second thought. If we were going to make it a memorable game, then we had to do something special. So we did.
11,790 – Oxford United 0 Northampton 1, 26 December 2016
Michael Appleton’s greatest game? A true awakening of our dormant club? Yes and yes. It was difficult to know what to expect from the visit of Swansea, who were fighting relegation rather than focussing on Wembley. A moment of Premier League class saw them take the lead, after which we hand over to one of Oxford’s greatest ever sides; Liam Sercombe equalised from the spot, Kemar Roofe scored two beauties. The second breakaway goal is not only a wonderful team goal, the eruption in the East Stand as the ball looped in tells you everything about the club at the time. A Premier League performance by a League 2 team.
11,655 Oxford United 1 Swindon Town 0, 2003
As we know, absence makes the heart grow more spiteful. When we were drawn against Swindon Town in the FA Cup in 2003, it was the first meeting at the Kassam. It was an ugly time; the Kassam still wasn’t home, Ian Atkins was not in the game to entertain. The result was an ugly game, but a beautiful win. In the XX, the most glancing of headers from Jefferson Louis found the only route to goal available narrowly missing Steve Basham on the line. The reward was an away draw against Arsenal, Louis filmed celebrating naked in the dressing room live on TV.
11,647 Oxford United 0 Blackburn 3, 30 January 2016