Season Preview – Part Three

So, here we are, the dawn of another season. May feels a long way off, so Oxblogger has decided to get into his patented time machine and travel through the year to find out what’s going to happen…

The season opens in glorious sunshine with a win, and the messageboards light up hailing the performance of one of the new signings. A tough draw at Cambridge is followed by defeat at Burton. The messageboards light up again; pointing out, rather obviously, that we didn’t lose for the first 19 games last season. There are dark rumblings about relegation, seven days after the season starts.

By the time the leaves on the trees start to turn brown we’re nestled in 5th, the messageboards are swarming with jubilant Droysden fans who are sitting top of the tree after winning their first nine games. One irritant calling himself “DFC4ever” posts 900 times in a week.

Early winter sees little improvement; home form is OK, but away form is patchy. Messageboards light up with rumours that Jim Smith is alcoholic/has his favourite players who are all rubbish/was seen buying paper down his local newsagent when he should have been scouting for talent or something.

Nick Merry goes onto Radio Oxford to tell fans that things are progressing with the stadium purchase. He means that he’s found the scrap of paper with Firoz’s phone number on. Still, most fans stare at the radios in awe at the news before heading for the messageboards. Somebody does a very detailed analysis of the potential purchase of the ground, but nobody replies because they don’t understand it.

A week before the transfer window opens the messageboards light up with news that ageing an Premiership striker (Ian Rush according to some) is in talks. A bloke down the pub works closely with someone whose wife cleans the ticket office. It turns out that it was Malcolm Christie and he’s been lined up for the next Sportsman’s Dinner.

The transfer window opens, a day later the messageboards are alight with complaints that we haven’t signed anyone. Then someone announces that Paul Powell is in talks. Salisbury sign someone somebody has vaguely heard of and the messageboards melt with questions as to why we can’t sign anyone like that. Christmas sees a big double-header against Crawley. Two wins sees us up to third taking over from Droylsden who haven’t taken a point in 14 games. We sign someone Jim Smith worked with at Portsmouth (though not Harry Redknapp).

Play in Setanta Shield, go out of Setanta Shield, play in FA Trophy, go out of FA Trophy. Draw Walsall in the Cup and sell out our end at the Bescott; a late equaliser from Rob Duffy takes us back to the Kassam where amongst great expectation (and a potential home draw against Leeds) we go down 1-4. Chris Tardif goes on record to say he’s happy to bide his time waiting for another club to come in.

Things are looking up in the league. Undefeated throughout January and February, including a 6-0 drubbing of Droylsden (sending them into the relegation zone) we’re now in second behind Torquay. In early April we head down to the English Riviera for a top v second clash transmitted live on Setanta. As a result the game has been moved to the Thursday night. But Saturday’s scheduled game with Farsley has been moved to back to the same time to accommodate our live game at Woking, which has been moved to Sunday. Farsley fans, who weren’t told about the change, turn up to find the Kassam empty so they go and watch the 9th instalment of a 90’s blockbuster at Vue cinema.

We outplay Torquay and romp home 3-0, 1200 fans have made the trip, although 8,500 people are claiming to have been there on the messageboards the next day. During the game, in which we play in blue, fans sing ‘Are we Chelsea in disguise’ to which some wag shouts ‘Not much of a disguise’. We’re up to our ankles in bonhomie.

The Farsley game is eventually played in front of the biggest crowd in the season. Everyone is expecting a jubilant romp, but we labour and go down to a near post corner scored by the fattest man ever to have played at the Kassam. He runs, best he can, in front of the Oxford Mail Stand with one fist in the air. Something appears to be moving in the North Stand; it might be the away fans, but it could also be an escaped cat. The stewards pile in regardless.

After Farsley, in which all fan-sites including this one, refer to it as Farce-ly, things get back on track with a couple of wins on the bounce. The messageboards light up saying that Jim Smith was seen falling out of a pub in Woodstock. Everyone says he deserves it because he’s a genius.

We go to Ebbsfleet needing a draw for the championship. Wild predictions from the messageboards say that we’ll score between 9 and 13 because everyone has forgotten that Ebbsfleet were Gravesend and Northfleet last season and think they’re some village team. We go a goal down in the first half. But then so do Torquay just before half time. If it stays like this we’ll be champions. We get bogged down early in the second half until Yemi is brought on. He runs riot scoring two, the second one he weaves his way through the Ebbsfleet back line, slots the ball home and keeps weaving off into the travelling faithful. He’s immediately substituted because someone has stuffed him up his jumper as a momentum and legged it. The final whistle goes and we’re champions. Nick Harris, giddy with the excitement, announces that he and Jerome Sale are happily living as a gay couple. Nick Merry throws his hair into the crowd and Billy Turley does an unimaginative Elvis dance in front of the fans. Great days.

Season Preview – Part Two

The end of last season deflated me; I never expected it to be an easy ride, but nor did I expect to be a Conference team for more than a season. I didn’t think we had a God given right to promotion, when you’ve supported a league club for so long – it’s difficult to get that idea out of your system in 12 months. We are a league club; we’re just in the wrong league. As daft as that concept sounds, its how I feel.

This is not arrogance; hopefully it keeps us on our toes. A league club in the Conference is failing. The point at which we start aspiring to be a league club (rather than requiring the status) is the point at which our standards drop.

The squad has been amended rather than overhauled, there’s been evolution not revolution. This is a good thing; it also looks more solid now the Premiership has-beens have gone and Burgess, the fanciest of all the Dans, has departed to misplace raking cross-field passes elsewhere.

There’s much to look forward to; we are still the powerhouse of the division and we should expect to be battling it out at the top. The season crescendo should involve either promotion or at least the play-offs. It seems inconceivable that we will finish below 5th.

I’m quite looking forward to Aldershot’s return; who offered as much of a carnival atmosphere as the Conference can muster. That and the St Albans game were probably the two most enjoyable games of the season. Generally speaking the games last season were a refreshing change from the slow death tedium of our last few league years.

The other thing to look forward to is ConfGuide, which offers a flood of statistics and information, which can be analysed and cut in any way you want. What’s more, we always look good on it; especially when it comes to attendances.

It’s not likely to be all good; the league has sold its soul to Setanta and we’re the biggest of all its victims so far. We’re already had something like 8 games changed because of them – that’s 20% of our season fiddled around with and we haven’t even started. We’re being tossed around like a rag doll. What’s more, we’re expected to play in the Setanta Shield – which is designed to fill airtime, but just adds games and expense with little or no value.

And, above all for all the enjoyment that we might get in the coming season, we’re still a conference team, non-league. For all the wins and pushing for promotion, we’re still in ‘fail’ mode and that’s just depressing.

Season Preview – Part One

In the Good Old Days – the days that you don’t remember clearly – the close season was very different to how it is now. News emanating from the club was virtually nil; the odd by-line in the local press about a signing or where our latest golden boy was heading, but not much else. The summer was spent playing cricket and generally mucking about.

My family used to travel around Europe during the summer; the only contact we had with home was the World Service. The chances of Oxford news coming through that was next to nothing (apart from the second half of our Division 1 debut versus West Brom, which was listened to on the beach at Lake Trasimeno).

The silence made the heart grow fonder. The opening game of the new season was exciting because everything was refreshed; the team, the kits, even the existing players had a tanned sheen from an exotic holiday in Magaluf.

Even giants of the Blue Square like ourselves are now subject to wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour close season news. New signings don’t arrive like mysterious wonders, we watch them from the first bung payment through the humiliation of being ‘on-trial’ to signature. Not being able to escape means that the new season arrives when you’re still looking trying to get away from supporting the club and all the horrors this entails.

Still, it’s been a quieter close season than normal and with promising friendly results following tonight’s 1-0 win against Birmingham, means, for the first time I’m approaching Saturday’s curtain raiser with a renewed sense of vigour.