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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Old game of the day
But, this was a whole heap of fun.
From the blog
“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.”
While we seem to be steering into choppy and unchartered waters with poor finances, questionable PR decisions and variable form. Down the A420 things are similarly, and as always, more spectacularly in flux. Demanding to be centre of attention, once again, is Paolo Di Canio. If he does leave, perhaps he should be remembered fondly in Oxford as well as in Swindon.
It’s not been a great week; Ian Lenegan admitted that discussions hadn’t started on new contracts, we’re set to have a £450,000 defecit this year, Bridle are to end their sponsorship, the whole Luke McCormick thing, and then, fittingly, the defeat to Southend after dominating.
Down the A420 things haven’t been great either; the club have sold their prize asset, they’re set to have a new owner with less than sparkling credentials. If there is a tonne of money in that deal, then why sell your best player? And now, Paolo Di Canio is imploding.
It feels like we’re at the end of something. A golden period for the Oxford Swindon rivalry. At our end, it’s not necessarily Ian Lenagan or Chris Wilder’s fault. The economy continues to bumble along and the government’s austerity measures are digging in. Companies that have been steered through the recession are beginning to feel the pain. The middle classes are feeling the bite. It’s not quite that they’re starving to death, there’s still enough money to buy quinoa, but for the casual football fan the decision whether to go to games; based on the weather, the need to get that rubbish down to the tip and the price; is becoming a little less compelling by the week.
The period started at Wembley in 2010. If we’re talking about moments, perhaps it was when Isaiah Rankin skewed his shot wide at 2-1 when he should have tied the game up and broken our spirit. For them, it’s that little bobble in front of Charlie Austin as he bore down on goal in Swindon’s play-off final against Millwall. At that point, we were on a collision course.
The immovable object finally hit the irresistible force a year later, and everything that followed pivoted around two people. For us, it was James Constable, and I’ve done plenty on him and will, no doubt, do plenty more in the future. For them, it was Paolo. And, I have to confess something, I think he’s great.
Di Canio lifted the rivalry up from the norm; he’s the lightening rod for more intense media attention. And, he’s a fascist; how brilliant is that? A real, proper, ideologically evil nut job. He lit the bonfire by bidding for James Constable on two occasions. Constable resisted like Luke Skywalker repelling Darth Vader. It was a titanic struggle. When we beat them, first at the County Ground, and then at the Kassam with 10 men we defeated evil. It was perfect. The rivalry burned long and bright; they were more successful in the main, but we won the head to heads. The argument as to who was better was gloriously unresolvable.
But Di Canio is more than just a pantomime villain. Not only do I think he’s proved himself as a manager, but I like the way he runs his club. I saw both of our home wins, and although our performances were heroic, they were an excellent team playing attractive football. You can easily, and reasonably, argue that the success was fuelled by money they didn’t have, but Di Canio; although fortunate to have been given the funds, used them well. The ability to turn raw funding into a successful squad is not a just job is a skill that is often overlooked.
There’s more; he was hyperbolic – Constable being a Swindon fan; having an on-pitch punch-up with Leon Clarke, substituting his goalkeeper after 21 minutes, declaring that there should be a plaque put up in tribute to their win over Wigan, and claiming our rivalry was one of the most intense he knew. When he started he was a guest at the Swindon half marathon, taking a wrong turn during his ceremonial run, he ran the whole thing. More recently, he was helping clear their pitch when it snowed; buying all those who helped pizza as thanks. Fans love people with commitment, and here was someone whose commitment was almost maniacal.
Di Canio’s uncompromising ideology was always going to be his downfall. When he arrived, most predicted that it was collapse in high farce, although I don’t think I was alone in thinking that it would probably happen in a matter of weeks, not years. The lower leagues are characterised by boom and bust, and Di Canio is similarly volatile. Eventually two would combust. That moment seems to have come.
We move on into a new era. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, just different. Of the two clubs, I suspect our future is fractionally more secure. We’ve demonstrated classic English conservatism throughout. For all Ian Lenagan’s failings; he steers a very steady course for the club, too steady for some. I doubt, however, that our future is going to see a meteoric rise up the divisions. They are faced with clawing back the excesses of the last few years with an owner who has been ploughing his millions into, um, Banbury United; currently lying 12th in the Evo Stik Southern Premier Division.
The way that Di Canio is carving out his exit, as the passionate leader being ousted by the very people he saved, he will no doubt always be remembered for putting together a great team and going on a great adventure. As an Oxford fan, I’d like to thank him too.
Swindon Town go into administration less than six months after being promoted from League 2. Laughing at them is the stock response to this kind of thing. But do we treat administration as seriously as we should?
There was a degree of trepidation in the run up to Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. We edged towards the Friday showdown with a degree of fear. This was a man who took drugs to cheat on a grand scale, not a one-off pitch at glory, this was the best of all time, winning all the time, and cheating to do it. It was outrageous. Then, with evidence stacked up against him, he continued to deny everything, scratching and clawing at those who doubted his superhuman endeavour. What kind of animal was he? We were about to find out. Perhaps he would chew Oprah’s throat out.
The days passed and stories began to surface that he had confessed. The thing was, there was nothing new in confessing, we know all about that. What was more terrifying was that we might find out why he did it. This brought its own anxieties; was the reason so harrowing that our hearts would melt? Was Armstrong going to go from cancer victim to hero to villain to victim again? How were we going to reconcile all that? There’s always been the cancer thing; will we find that we’ve unjustly vilified a cancer survivor, what humanity is in that?
Sights were set firmly on Friday; edging towards it night by night. There he was, sitting there with Oprah, with a secret to tell. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, Nicole Cooke; a superstar of the women’s race; multiple Tour de France winner, World Champion and Olympic gold medallist announced her retirement at just 29. Well, not so much announced it; blasted us all to kingdom come with it. A statement running to nearly 5,000 words; crafted, structured, with subheadings.
She obliterated any sympathy we might have for Armstrong by focussing on his grand theft. As the Armstrong legend grew, you see, his triumphs siphoned money away from others; from women, from those who couldn’t perform because they wouldn’t or couldn’t cheat. It is not a morale judgement, it is fraud, theft, she said. She is very happy with her career; but she’s not rich. Her titanic performances over the cols of France and streets of Beijing will not secure her for the rest of her life. Not like Lance Armstrong, or Tyler Hamilton or any of the US Postal team complicit in this fraud who are now making millions from books, films and TV interviews with Oprah. Her statement is, frankly, breathtaking.
Last week we also found out that Swindon Town were considering administration as a way of securing their future. They are £15 million in debt with no obvious way of reducing those arrears.
Administration is often greeted in football terms; like a form of relegation. Depending on our allegiance we either laugh or sympathise with its victims. The impact is to sell star players and get a 10 point penalty. Boo hoo. As the now redundant employees of Jessops will tell you, administration is serious stuff. It’s the last step before complete liquidation.
Football clubs, even those in administration, seem able to avoid the real life consequences of bankruptcy. Since 1984 only Maidstone have liquidated in England whilst still a league club, and even they had barely even started in the football league. Chester, Darlington and Aldershot have all suffered hugely from financial collapse, but they were out of the league when they went under. Rangers, of course, in Scotland, are the biggest of all the failures; but it turns out that even that might have been avoided. If you’re out of the league it’s a different matter, but for football clubs in the league administration is a relatively minor blip.
So administration in football is treated like a semi-final cup defeat; so cruel, so sad, but ultimately of no real consequence.
I wouldn’t normally reduce myself to commenting on Swindon Town’s financial plight. My allegiances are too loaded and I’m not so stupid to realise that I sound bitter. But Cooke had a point. Swindon have cheated, by buying success they couldn’t afford, they’ve stolen from others, including us. Not every administration case is the same; some clubs become beholden to ne’er do wells who strip the club of their assets, leaving them broke and unsuccessful. Like Wrexham. But we shouldn’t have sympathy for those who have knowingly spent money on short term success.
No doubt Swindon will be saved, they will almost certainly stay in League 1 next year, and perhaps they’ll have a Lance Armstrong day; a giant killing or Wembley appearance where they can shed tears of their struggle and redemption. Di Canio, if he stays, will spout forth about spirit and god’s will. Administration will have no consequence; it’ll just be part of their resurrection narrative.
I want Swindon to survive; I do. Derby games between us are fantastic. This isn’t about Swindon Town, it’s about the actions of football clubs all over the country. What they’ve done is hugely overspent, they got promoted off the back of it, which impacted us. The boasted and bullied their way to the title on money that didn’t exist. That’s a year of our own investment down the drain because one club are playing a suicidal game. Why should we fail because they choose to cheat?