Once a Yellow, sort of.
Each of us has a friend that ask us to do things we’re perhaps not entirely happy about. It starts at school, “tell her I fancy her. It’ll look stupid if I do it”. It continues into our teens, “you buy the cigarettes. You look old enough”. With me it carried on into my thirties, “d’you fancy coming to the football this weekend?”.
I love football and while living in London I was fortunate enough to be able to go and watch the team I support, Tottenham Hotspur, with reasonable regularity. The seats weren’t great and as anyone who has been there can testify, White Hart Lane can be a miserable place to get to on occasion but over the years I have seen some fantastic players in N17, some of them were even in Spurs shirts. When we left the capital for rural Oxfordshire in 2009 it became too much of a commitment to both finances and family time to travel to North London. I am sure there are some that will claim this makes me typical of the modern ‘supporter’, not prepared to go to games and they’re probably right. Armchair fan sums me up perfectly.
Taking all of this into consideration you would think that the opportunity to go to a game that didn’t involve a six-hour round trip would be something I’d jump at. When it’s non-league football and Altrincham are in town though you do have to wonder. I am a football snob, (as well as an armchair fan. I’m hanging myself out to dry a little here). I had no desire to watch to teams of cloggers bash lumps out of each other whilst being charged £17.50 for the privilege. However when two of your closest friends are Oxford Utd fans who have not only helped you move house but then also built mountains of flat pack furniture for you too it’s easy to think that taking a few hours out to watch their beloved Yellows is the least you can do.
Up until this point I had never been to an Oxford United game. I had never been to the Manor Ground and wasn’t particularly aware of the club’s history. I knew about Aldridge, Houghton and the Milk Cup win. I still laughed like a grubby-minded schoolboy when I saw old Oxford shirts with the ‘Wang’ sponsorship. The only players I knew from the intervening years were Joey Beauchamp and Matt Elliott and that was a testament to their endeavours after leaving United, (or in Beauchamp’s case a lack thereof). It was even a surprise to find out that the Kassam Stadium only had three stands.
My first thoughts as the game started, (other than “you get and good view of the car park here”) were that it wasn’t so different from going to Spurs after all. Once again I found myself in a stand, (the south) that seemed to dislike singing but being especially keen on moaning about the quality of football on display. It was just like being in the east stand, (lower) at White Hart Lane. The game was far better than I had ignorantly assumed it would be and when Damian Batt smashed in the winner, from what I now remember as almost on the halfway line but was probably a little closer to goal, I was very pleased.
I enjoyed it so much that went back, and back, and back again. I went to five or six games that season and I was in the crowd at Wembley when Alfie Potter was among the scorers that took Oxford United back into the football league.
Going to Oxford games is obviously a different experience than you would expect at a Premier League game, in many ways it’s better although the food is still reassuringly overpriced. As a disabled fan I find it very easy to get to my seat at the Kassam, (if the lift is working) and I can park at the stadium which makes a huge difference. Along with these very selfish points I’ve met some great people who I now see away from games. I have even been to an Oxford United wedding.
A strange thing happened recently when I bumped into another Oxford fan at a local beer festival. I found myself referring to OUFC as ‘we’. I was slightly shocked and then it dawned on me that I was almost as excited by Oxford’s upcoming season as I was about Spurs’. I’m all set for the first away league game at Swindon since the 2000-2001 season and I am constantly doing the maths to see if I can afford to splash out on a season ticket, (not this year). Trips to the Kassam have gone from being a good excuse to spend time with friends to being a chance to get behind my local football league team. I will always be a Spurs fan but I am starting to feel like an Oxford United supporter.