If my book accomplishes one thing, I hope it’s that Americans who have only heard of the top six clubs in the Premier League will read it and wind up in places like Oxford United.
It isn’t that Oxford is a particularly special club — you can get to know them a bit here — but I think that’s the point, really. It’s just a local football club, one that few outside the town care much about, and so it provides a proper footballing experience: meet your mates for a pint or two, have a sing-song, complain about your team until they do something good, throw a few wanker signs at the away fans, and, one hopes, head home with all the points and a smile on your face.
I arrived there at the beginning of a tour, and to go, as I did, from my apartment at home to my seat at the Kassam Stadium, hearing the banter and sipping my bevvie and hoping for a cracking game, in just 24 hours, is what this whole thing is about for me. Hell, it’s what travel is about!
I spent an extra four quid and got a seat on the midfield stripe, just above the Directors, some of whom were wearing actual suits! I was blessed with a great view, some cover from the rain, and two lads behind me who spent the entire evening in constant banter.
Technically, one of them provided most of the volume, and his was a running, stream-of-football-consciousness ramble, filled with shouts and asides and curses and references to beer and other lads and their wives and travel stories and updates from games around the country. It was the flavor of talk that can only happen at a small-time club, where the stakes on the pitch are low, the action doesn’t interrupt too often, and the whole point is just to be out for the evening.
Someday I will wire myself for a recording, so I can truly capture this kind of thing. For now, I’ll try to mix in some of the commentary as we go, which is how I received it anyway.
Right, so Oxford are dominating the opening stages, picking up where they left off with their 3-0 thrashing of “Jills” (Gillingham), where it turned out they actually know how to score some fucking goals. If they keep up like this, the weekend trip to Blackpool might be worth something from a footballing perspective, other than the absolutely mental party it’s going to be, anyway. A place like Blackpool, you have to just take £100 in cash and swear you won’t drink any more than that. And shit, Pool is winning 3-1 away to Plymouth, you know. That’s gonna be a touch one, that.
Come on, Robbie! Skin ‘im!
This Robbie, out on the right wing, he just oozes class, doesn’t he? We’re getting all our joy down his side. He is clearly too good for this team, and I don’t see how we keep him. I could see him playing for England one day, if I’m being honest.
(Robbie proceeds to screw something up, drawing jeers from the away fans and groans from the locals.)
Right, there goes the England squad!
But why the fuck is ‘e playing this Thomas up front? Oh, Aluko is hurt? Well, Thomas is shite; where’s Carroll? Looks like we’re back to our non-scoring ways tonight.
Bradford starts to pick up the pressure a bit, they’re well organized I must say, and their lanky winger gets the ball in the corner of the area — close him down, for fuck’s sake, don’t let him just walk into our area! — and then he curls an absolute peach into the far upper corner, past a courtesy dive from the keeper, then runs back toward the Bradford fans and leaps into a teammate’s arms. Great goal, that. But Jesus, we’re shite.
Did you see that Chelsea are already up, 3-0, in the first half? Fucking pub team they’re playing — who’s it, Carabang? Caribou? Some fucking thing. Honestly, they should just throw their academy squad out there and give the regulars a rest. Man U is being held, though; come on, Basel! We’re all Basel supporters tonight, eh?
It’s 1-0 at halftime, and honestly, Oxford are such shite we’d take a point right now. This Bradford side are really well organized, tough to break down. By the way, I’ve got a mate that lives up there, and he says their season tickets are £150 to sit behind a goal. Ya believe that? Ours are £300, for fucks sake. That’s why they get 20,000 a game and we get 6,000. They’ll probably get to Premier League one day, as well.
Fuck me, they hit the post, as well!
At 70 minutes, we would absolutely take a point right here and now, when Van Kessel takes a really speculative shot from way outside the area, the keeper spills it, and that fucking Thomas pounces and roofs it into the net for the equalizer! Now we’re jumping and shouting and hugging. I fucking knew that Thomas was a player, mate! Didn’t I say so.
YEL-lows! YEL-lows! YEL-lows!
A few minutes later, damned if they didn’t score again, this time on a brilliant counter, and it’s fucking Jills all over again! We’re gonna win the league! Chaos down in the home end, we’re all throwing wanker signs and shouting Who are ya at the Bradford folks, who have no doubt now decided that they are shite and will probably get fucking relegated. And deserve it, they’re such fucking shite.
Jesus, Celtic are down 5 to Barcelona at home, ya know? And fucking Man U got one, from Fellaini. Fellaini! He’s not even a footballer, that cunt; he’s a fucking basketballer.
Come on, you U’s! If we win this, and get a result at Blackpool, we’re top four, ya know.
And then … in injury time … Bradford come down the right, send in a decent cross, our shite defenders don’t deal with it, and they head it home, bottom corner. Fucking 2-2. Bradford fans go mental, the ref blows for full time, and honestly, now it feels like we fucking lost. I’da taken a point 20 minutes ago, and now it feels like a loss, doesn’t it? Jesus, we’re shite.
‘Ats alright, boys, well done! Let’s clap ‘em off. But shit, we threw those points away.
Right, so see you in Blackpool, then? You know that Allen bloke is coming, right? It’s gonna be fucking mental. He’s always like, “Right then, get yer shots, get yer whiskey, let’s fucking do this!” Jesus, I hope we get out of there alive … and maybe with a result, eh? Honestly, though, this game tonight … I mean, we’re kind of shite.
And … end scene.
Cut to a quiet, rainy street, a kebab shop with three guys behind the counter and one customer looking at his phone. A stranger wanders in, stares blankly at the menu, orders the peri peri wings with chips, repeats himself because his accent is funny, then leans against the wall and looks at his own phone.
Another guy comes in, and there’s much banter, this time in Arabic. The stranger thinks maybe they’re arguing, but then the latest guy leaves with his order, soft handshakes over the counter for everyone, and it goes quiet again. The food comes out, the guy asks the stranger if he wants salt or vinegar, has to repeat himself, then asks, twice, about sauces.
The stranger says cheers and thanks, pulls his hood over his head, and wanders off into the rain, another football night under his belt.
Postscript: The U’s lost in Blackpool at the weekend, 3-1. No word on the party.