Promising to build a team to be proud of, as Firoz Kassam famously announced on our last night at The Manor, sounds a really generous thing to do.
Consider it a little further and it starts to sound self-indulgent, for what it says is that he will transact to us, using his wealth and power, a team for our enjoyment.
This fundamentally misunderstands being a fan; we don’t want to be given a team, we want to be part of a (extended) team. It’s a club, after all, clubs have members and we want to be members.
When it was revealed that Kelvin Thomas was at the controls of Oxford’s official Twitter feed during our 2-0 win against Mass United it was great. Here was the chairman of the club chatting with fans, in-game, about the game as an equal. It was warm and opinionated (his nan could have scored a chance that Dean Smalley spurned from five yards) and not at all corporate. Firoz Kassam once sat with the fans in the Oxford Mail stand, but that was to find out what the catering services were like.
John Lewis is known for its high levels of staff retention and dedication. Central to this is the limit they place on the difference between the highest and lowest paid staff members. The whole organisation is drawn closer together because they legislate against an ‘us and them’ culture.
The gap between the chairman and the fans (and therefore, the players and manager) is shrinking all the time. Thomas is not imparting his genius unto us mere mortals. He’s just a bloke doing the role he’s paid to do, and as part of the deal, we’ll do the job we’re expected to do. As a result there’s no ‘us and them’ (or us and him), there’s just ‘us’. A proper football club.
All I remember of the 1988 Olympic 100 metres final was the sprinters approaching the blocks, a brief moment of darkness and tranquillity and then Ben Johnson jogging round the stadium with a wild look in his eye and a triumphant arm aloft. Having stayed up all night to watch it, I fell asleep for a fraction under 10 seconds. I did the same with at least two Mike Tyson title fights watching him enter the ring before waking up to see him standing over the blubbering wreckage of his unconscious opponent.
I have long given up trying to stay up for major sporting events. Therefore, I purposely slept through our draw with Seacoast United Phantoms.
This morning I reached for my phone to check Twitter to find that a hard core of Twellows had stayed up to listen-in via Yellow Player. There was talk of the noise coming from the ‘bleachers’ and that the Phantoms’ goal came from a ‘Light PK’. Yellow Player seemed to fizz in and out of contact throughout the game – unforgivable when visiting Gillingham but seemingly in keeping with the spirit of adventure surrounding the tour. A Phantoms fan made a point that the game was quite a big deal because we’re professional and, more importantly, on FIFA (ergo: famous). The purpose of the game, for them, was that it was an exciting challenge. Something I can buy into.
The photos reinforce all of this; the game was held on Astroturf with a bewildering number of pitch markings for other sports, the surrounding bleachers are makeshift and sparsely populated. It couldn’t be anywhere but America, which is, like, proper foreign.
When Saturday Comes has an article this month which talks of the ‘New Seriousness’ in football, where we are encouraged to be terribly earnest about football and its meaningful place in society. This tour is the complete opposite of that horrible trend.
If, like me, you grew up reading Roy of the Rovers, you will probably use this as a central reference for to how to run a football club. And so, you’ll particularly be enjoying Oxford’s current tour of New England.
Melchester’s Law states that tours are what clubs do during the summer. There will be no commercial agenda, it’s not even in preparation for the new season, it’s just good wholesome sporting fun; an old fashioned works daytrip that lasts for 3 months.
It will be in a far off place, and will typically be announced to the team at 24 hours notice in the dressing room at Wembley following an epic FA Cup Final win. The players will have no family commitments and will be ready to jet off without question:
Roy: “Lads, tomorrow we’re off on tour… to AMERICA!”
The rest of the team: “YEEEHAAAW!”
Apart from some of the more obtuse plot devices, designed to simplify the central narrative or stretch it across the entire close-season, our trip to the East Coast has a classic old school Melchester-style feel about it.
The players are off on a footballing holiday together, they’ll play a couple of games, they’ll pick up a hot prospect who is both a world beater and never previously been discovered (hopefully, he will have an angry dad who only wants him to play baseball). My only hope now is that there is some hilarious mix-up and they turn up to one of the games only to find the opposition decked out in gridiron helmets and shoulder pads.