Another matchday programme article from my work experience at the Kassam Stadium, this one published on 16th August 2011
I’ll be honest about this. I’ve been a fan of Oxford’s relatively local rivals Reading for about the last decade. I’ve followed us from the old Division Two, when we lost in the play-off final to Walsall in 2001, right into the Premier League, where we spent two seasons from 2006 until 2008. I watched us lose to Swansea City in the Championship play-off final in May in the bar while I was at university and probably should have been revising for my exams, and despaired as some pretty terrible defending saw us pretty much hand the Swans a place in the Premier League on a plate.
However, in the week that I’ve spent on work experience in the press office of Oxford United, something strange has happened. Without realising, I’ve become an Oxford fan. I was disappointed last Wednesday as we gave Cardiff City an almighty scare in the Carling Cup and came up just short in extra-time. I was similarly disappointed when we drew with Bradford City on Saturday, and come into tonight’s game hopeful we can get three points against Shrewsbury. Despite sitting in the comfort of the press box, all objectivity has been completely disregarded. I’ve celebrated goals we’ve scored, I’ve despaired as we’ve conceded them. I’m even now referring to the club, Oxford United, as ‘we’.
What’s changed? What has happened to convert this avowed Reading fan into a fan of one of their biggest rivals? What has happened to me?
Firstly, if there’s anything the past week in the press office has taught me, it’s that this club is everywhere. Wherever I’ve looked, particularly in Oxford itself, but also in the surrounding area where I myself live, people proudly display Oxford United flags, car stickers, shirts and just about any other piece of merchandise imaginable. This club is everywhere throughout Oxford and Oxfordshire as a whole. People adore this club, and I’ve been swept along by this adoration, as for the first time I’ve realised just how big Oxford United is in the local community. Oxford is United, so to speak.
That leads me on to my second point, the second reason why I’ve become an Oxford United fan almost by accident. It’s the enthusiasm of the Oxford fans, both inside the press office and outside of it. Here, fans live for the club, for matchdays. All week seems to be spent building up to the next game, whether it’s on a Saturday afternoon or is a midweek league or cup game. What also strikes me is that while fans do get frustrated at performances or results, they always come back for the next game, and the next, and the next. Here, there is very much a sense that there’ll always be another game, another chance for the team, another chance for a win. I’ve found myself becoming a bigger and bigger part of this, beginning to share the enthusiasm of the fans more and more, through the good times and the bad. Last Saturday, I’d say I was genuinely, genuinely disappointed after the 1-1 draw with Bradford, and found myself agreeing with what people around me were saying about the game. Obviously, I won’t repeat some of what I heard here! However, at the same time, I found myself completely agreeing with those who said ‘Yeah, it’s disappointing. But there’s always Tuesday. We’ll beat Shrewsbury.’ I found myself yearning for the next 90 minutes, for the next match.
Finally, and this may surprise many, one thing that has turned me into something of an Oxford United fan is this stadium. Yes, the Kassam Stadium, which I think is a truly wonderful place to call my workplace for most of the rest of August. It’s an eccentric ground, really, and is the last true three-sided stadium in the country. But I love this stadium. It’s got character; it’s got personality; so much more so than the modern stadia that we see in the Premier League. If there’s anything I’ll remember from my time here, it’ll be walking out onto the pitch while Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton were here doing some promotional work, standing in the penalty area at the Oxford Mail Stand end and realising what an incredible place this is to watch football.
So to finish, it probably isn’t possible to be a fan of both Reading and Oxford, given the rivalry between the two clubs. However, the question in my mind is: will I come back to the Kassam after I’ve left the press office and watch some games? My answer: Yes, absolutely. Where else would I want to go?