Tuesday, 17 January 2012

My First Oxford Match

In the first of what I hope will prove to be a very interesting series of posts, I have posted by time-ravaged recollections of my first ever visit to the Manor Ground back in April 1996. I'm really keen to hear from as many of you as possible, so if you would like to jot down your recollections of your first Oxford match, no matter how vague or unremarkable, it would be really appreciated. The more contributions we get to this, the more of an insight we can get into the reasons why we choose to follow this wonderful club. Please email all submissions to tbfuth@hotmail.co.uk.

Oxford United 1-0 Blackpool (06/04/96)

1996 was, in many ways, a perfect storm. English football was resurgent once again following the sweeping changes that had changed the face of the sport in the early 90s. The exciting and glamorous image of the new Premier League had reformed football from the 'slum sport for slum people' of the 80s into a game that was now once again socially acceptable for the middle classes to enjoy. 'Cool Britannia' was at its height, football being central to the British cultural renaissance of the time, and with Euro 96 on the horizon the buzz was that football was 'coming home'.

Of course, at just seven years of age, I was completely unaware of how such a fertile atmosphere would influence my own nascent love of football. I was already well on my way to completing my Merlin Premier League sticker album, had delighted in watching that season's title race between Manchester United and Newcastle United and my favourite band of the time, the Lightning Seeds, had just teamed up with David Baddeil and Frank Skinner to soundtrack it all. My dad had introduced me to football on TV from a young age, but had mostly avoided the real thing throughout football's worst years. Thus, it was a combination of football's improved image, my childhood love for the game and my family's improved financial position that led me to make my first trip to the Manor Ground in April 1996 to see a match loaded with significance, though I hardly knew it at the time.

I left the house that day not knowing that I was about to get my first taste of live football and of the club that would become so important to me. My dad had told me we were going to visit a friend in Headington and upon arriving I soon found myself sat with my dad in a crowded and unfamiliar pub, waiting for our friend to turn up. We were still waiting after I had drained my glass of Coke, and as the pub began to empty my dad suggested that we look elsewhere for him. Leaving the pub, we began to walk up a bustling street before eventually coming to a stop at a shadowy lane hemmed in by an imposing wall running along the left side and line of trees on the right. The sound of a tinny voice echoing out of a tannoy floated over the wall and the narrow lane I found myself stood in front of was filled with people queueing to gain entry to whatever was on the other side of that wall.

I had never seen a football ground in reality, yet when my dad asked me 'Do you know where we are?', I knew instantly that this was a football match. I felt like Christmas had come early as we walked away from what I now know was Cuckoo Lane and took our place on the shallow terracing along the Osler Road side, right in the corner by the London Road End. It would have been easy to have been underwhelmed by the homely Manor Ground when compared to the newly-redeveloped theatres of football on the television which, until now, had been my only experience of professional football. However, my first impressions were the complete opposite. The cloying smell of cigarette smoke mixed with the greasy stench of the burger stand filled my nostrils and seemed to get caught under the low roof of the stand. My eyes drank in the technicolour advertising boards that seemed to be everywhere, the lush green of the pitch and those bright yellow shirts. But most spectacular was the noise: wave after wave of it as the London Road belted out what seemed to be an endless number of songs. Those Premier League extravaganzas I had witnessed on TV suddenly seemed stale and artificial in comparison to the sensory overload I was experiencing.

And what of the match itself? I'd love to be able to recall how I saw one of the last significant fixtures the old ground would host, how I witnessed the best goal ever scored at the Manor, how the events that day made the impossible possible as league leaders Blackpool wobbled, allowing us to pinch a promotion place in the final weeks of the season. I don't remember any of that. It's the silly things that have lived on in my memory; sitting on the wall at the front of the stand with my legs hanging in front of the advertising board, hearing the word 'wanker' directed at a referee for the first time in my life, the crumbling toilets at half time.

Of course, I was instantly hooked and begged my dad to take me back to the Manor as often as I could. Six months later I was the proud owner of a half-season ticket in the Beech Road Stand and over the next few years those rotting wooden benches would become like a second home to me. Every now and then, when I catch a whiff of cigar smoke or heat rub, or when a cheesy 90s pop song comes on the radio, I'm instantly transported back to that charming old ground so vividly I could almost be walking that familiar route to the ground, making my way past the changing rooms at the back of the Beech Road Stand or taking shelter from the cold at half time in the junior club room. Writing this has made me realise that it's not the big cup matches or promotion clashes which make you fall in love with your club, but those little things that enrich our footballing experience. This is the reason we support our local team and why simply watching the Premier League on telly will never be enough.


Post a Comment