Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.23 – Covid / Ballot / Wimbledon at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, December 27th, 2020  

(FESTIVE) SEASON 2020/21 – No.23: COVID / BALLOT / WIMBLEDON AT HOME

Firstly in these most challenging of times I hope everyone connected with OUFC had the most pleasant of Christmas Days possible in the circumstances and that 2021 eventually brings positive cheer as far as our football club is concerned. That sentiment naturally extends to life way beyond football.

Different people cope in different ways as our worlds have shrunk and there’s no doubt that mental health issues come into play with many people striving to put on a brave face. Where and how will it all end? Will it ever end? What will be the new normal if such a thing is ever to exist?

In all this for lots of fans football has provided hope, a release, something to look forward to and hang on to. That football is now mostly from a distance, at arms-length on iFollow, already paid for by season ticket holders for home games and a tenner a time for away games. My family has lapped that up and recreated the match day experience the best we can in the comfort of our own home.

Others will have gone down a different path. With the Covid threat still being as real as ever and arguably even more sinister now we’ve got the mutant VUI – 202012/01 that is 70% more transmittable.

(NB: I write many FVs bit by bit, regularly picking it up and putting it down again. What’s written above was done before the announcement that Oxfordshire will leap from tier 2 to tier 4 on Boxing Day – after the now reined in a bit but still illogical Christmas Day set up. To be honest I think it was just about 100% nailed on this would happen.)

Picking up the thread again: For them football is an irrelevance. They’ll be consumed with keeping family safe and will quite probably also be focused on matters financial. Some who travelled home and away following the Yellows will not engage with the iFollow way, quite rightly reasoning that it isn’t the same and therefore is not for them.

Everyone makes choices. What works for one person doesn’t for another as we try to pick our way through these dark times.

What’s for sure is that the relationship between fan and the football club they follow will never be the same again. Bonds will be tightened, bonds will be loosened.

It’s never happened to me but I know from observation and speaking to some people that it really is very easy to get out of the habit. Stop going for a while for whatever reason. Realise it isn’t being missed. Free to do other things on a Saturday. Money saved. Did I really use to spend that much watching 22 grown men booting a ball about?  Stress levels reduced.

Clubs need to be very aware of their fan base and also to not assume that they are a homogeneous lot.

Back to iFollow, as we all have to do now and not through choice, there are the others who will think that this is a godsend. People who live too far away to get to many games. People who through ill health or old age physically can’t attend games. Now because of Covid if they’re willing to pay a tenner a time they can watch every game. Oxford United will make some money each time this happens. When we get back to (the new) normal with the vaccine having done as intended, says he optimistically, it would be nice to think something could be done to ensure there’s still iFollow itself or an equivalent. That will obviously be a tricky one because of the cost of the broadcast and the need to set the price at a level which won’t affect the number that will attend in the flesh but I’d hope that some thought would be given to it.

So far this season we’ve had four games called off by the opposition due to Covid. Crewe twice, Swindon once and Bristol Rovers away on Saturday 19 December. The home games against the Railwaymen and those from the other end of the A420 have now been squeezed in, both resulted in defeats, but this illustrates what a stop start campaign this is. Hard to get momentum and any sort of rhythm. Shame there’s to be an 11 day gap after turning over Northampton so effectively in the second half.

Whilst it is quite right that everything is done to stop the spread of the virus, the lack of clear guidance from the EFL shows weak leadership and questions to be answered over fair competition. That guidance may be there somewhere but I’ve not come across it and the Sunderland situation tells that clarity does not exist. Before their last game against Wimbledon they had lost eight players because they were following the coronavirus protocols. The EFL say it was up to Sunderland to call the game off but wouldn’t give a ruling that this was okay to do so until after the event meaning that the Black Cats feared a fine and or points deduction if they failed to fulfil the fixture. Hence the game went ahead with a very much weakened home side that dropped two points.

Crewe got as far as the Kassam Stadium for the first of the two called off games but we’ve heard nothing about any sanctions against them for travelling with a player that had returned a positive Covid-19 test on the morning of the game. That episode has been swept under the carpet. David Artell, their manager, turned into blinkered politician mode blaming Oxford and Karl Robinson. There’s an article about this on line on “Cheshire Live” where two comments have been left by readers. Here’s one, “Isn’t it interesting how Crewe have now deleted all news stories, videos, and social media relating to Artell’s unhinged ranting. As per the EFL statement, they were informed by Crewe that they were unable to fulfil the fixture, think the issues are closer to home with a club that has been good at covering things up.”

As always it is hard to get all facts 100% correct in such matters and if I’ve got any wrong happy to be corrected.

Shame Crewe were better than us when the game did get played though.

However careful people are there will still be some spreading of Covid. A little bit of forgetfulness here, a little bit of complacency there or just being plain unlucky. I’ll go heavily for the complacency argument, that and people just not thinking it through or stubbornly refusing to do as requested. Masks not being worn. Masks not being worn properly with nose free to run free. Just look at the crowds in Premier League games. Okay, they’re outside but that’s not the point. Some in the East Stand at our game against Northampton were not happy to be masked up. You have a choice, you don’t have to wear a mask. Provided you stay away from those who do see sense and that means steering well clear of football grounds. Then there’s the players. Mass celebrations when a goal is scored. That’s happening just as it was a year ago when we had not a clue as to what was coming.

Balls are sanitised (snigger) and goal-posts wiped down. All very clinical and at one time I thought OTT given that I assumed all players performing, well in the Premier League at least, had been tested and proven Covid free. Now I’m not so sure. Before the start of one game on Sky they were just about to kick off and the camera focused on one of the keepers. I think it was Vicente Guaita of Palace but couldn’t be sure. He held his gloves out in front of him. Then spat on them before rubbing them together. Insane but probably something he has always done and no one has thought to have a word with him.

Finally I can’t avoid comment on the ballot any longer. I know OxVox have collated feedback and I also know that the club had difficult decisions to make but I fear much damage has been done. My initial reaction was one of deep disappointment on two basic counts. Giving the 1893 club members a ticket to all restricted attendance games has told me loud and clear that they are valued more than I am. I and every other season ticket holder. Secondly it’s the damage that has been done in breaking a bond and there’s no longer any of this “we’re all in it together.”  Not all season ticket holders will be bothered but the mood I’ve picked up is one of sod you. Next time you ask to keep the money I’ve paid for something I’m not going to get you’ll be told to return it.

I’ve done some calculations before and I’ll do so again bring them up to date. Others may well have done the same and there will be families with more season ticket holders who have lost out to a greater extent than my wife and I.

Last season we got done from the off when Bury didn’t make the starting line. We sit in the SSU in the Premium seats. Not considered posh enough to get any preferential treatment nor should they be. We should be treated the same as those who pay the cheapest prices in the East Stand.

Last season we let the club keep £233.64 of our money. That included the £20 I paid for a Wycombe away ticket. Taking account of the games missed so far less a tenner a time added back on for iFollow and also adjusting for the two games we’ve attended in the SSL and SSU (not Premium) we’re now £324 down.

In addition to a seat in the SSU Premium area 1893 Club members get a programme and team sheet, match day hosting by club legends Steve Basham and Jeremy Charles, regular former and current player interviews, access to the Headington Bar, post Man of the Match presentation, a car parking space per two memberships (subject to availability), branded lanyard passes to the 1893 Club, access via corporate reception and first refusal for additional guest tickets in the 1893 Club. (Well that’s what they got a couple of seasons back. I couldn’t find anything more up to date).

I don’t know what the price difference is between 1893 Club membership and SSU Premium. The season ticket renewal announcement back in June contained this, “Tickets in the M Group 1893 Club are not currently available for renewal, however we will be in contact with supporters in the near future with full renewal details”.

I don’t blame the men and women who pay a couple of hundred quid (my guess) more but wonder if they were promised priority when they renewed.

What if that had been the case? What if instead of letting the club keep the money after last season was cut short many of us plebs had chosen the option of using it towards 2020/21 and said, hey we’ll add that and a bit more to upgrade to 1893 to make sure I get in every time your doors are open.  Okay that’s a bit silly but I’m trying to be a bit of a devil’s advocate here.

And coming back to the real world this is all academic once more at least for the time being.

We’ve got 4600 season ticket holders according to the Oxford Mail and 60% said yes they would like to go to some of the three games in the initial block. I’ve heard it said there are 150 1863 Club members so that leaves 1850 of the 2000 spaces we started with.

1850 x 3 = 5550. 60% of 4600 = 2760. Double that and you get 5520 meaning every season ticket holder should have got 2 out of 3 of Northampton, Wimbledon and Doncaster. Not bad at all so what am I moaning about?

And that’s without people returning tickets allocated because for one reason or another they couldn’t attend, or didn’t want to risk it. I’ll be honest, as infection rates shot up again I would have been very reluctant to have attended on Boxing Day anyway even if I’d been selected.

Yes, I’ve gone a bit OTT here to make a point and my love for Karl and the boys has not diminished one little bit. It wasn’t Sam Long or Matty Taylor and company who decreed the 1893 to be worthy of preferential treatment. But who was it? It wasn’t Oxford United FC in its entirety. It will have been an individual or committee of individuals.

Oxford United 2 AFC Wimbledon 0

This game went ahead but six of the 12 scheduled L1 fixtures did not because Accrington, Rochdale, Peterborough, Pompey, Doncaster and Sunderland have had positive Covid tests. This reminds us loud and clear how contagious this pesky virus is and that the season at best is going to be even more stop/start than we’d anticipated with the table being very imbalanced with the difference in games played varying considerably between those who’ve played the most and others who have had many an afternoon and evening with unplanned for leave. Four teams have now completed 20 league fixture. Accrington need to play four more to catch them up. Cramming games together in a short space of time does no club any favours least of all those whose match day squads lack depth.

I said stop/start but could we end up like we did in 19/20 when we had a stop but not a proper start? Could we end up once more with a PPG calculation being brought in to play and do the EFL have a contingency plan?

Meanwhile all a group of football players can do is go out to win each game they get to play and let the rest take care of itself. With that in mind job done this Boxing Day.

With a quarter of the game gone it was very much a case of this really is it. We looked once more like the team that had reached the play-offs last season. We were heading into Storm Bella but neither she nor Wimbledon could stop our flow. Compared to the Wombles our quality shone through. We passed the ball from yellow shirt to yellow shirt and if there was a tiny criticism it was that on occasion we forced it a little too much, looking for a killer ball which didn’t quite come off only to lose possession. That’s rather nit-picking though because one way to win a game of football is to get on the front foot from the first whistle and score some goals, which we did. And they were both really well worked which suggests a team at ease with itself. It was made to look easy and effortless which it obviously wasn’t. It is hour after hour on the training ground working on specific moves and forming bonds and understanding of how team mates operate.

There’s always at least one in our ranks and today the man with bandaged head was Alex Gorrin. Like those before him such a badge of honour was carried without adversely affecting his ability to perform. A holding battling midfielder he may be but in the 13th minute he carried the ball through the centre circle into the Wimbledon half before clipping it to Taylor. Matty turned and swiftly moved it on to Josh Ruffels whose first time low ball into the box was an inviting one which Jordan Obita controlled expertly. None of the ball pinging off all over the place from him. With his third touch he swung his whole body round and sent the ball across keeper Connal Trueman and into the net. Class and all done at speed.

Nine minutes on and the lead was doubled. As Mous is the man tasked with working on free-kicks, hats off to him for this and of course the two who pulled it off. A split second before Liam Kelly took the kick Taylor, who had been standing just beyond and to the right of the defensive wall but not quite in and amongst the main mix of blue shirts and yellow shirts, made a run. Kelly lifted the ball perfectly into his path. The visitors had no time to recover the situation and after one bounce the ball had been hammered beyond Trueman’s fruitlessly outstretched arm.

At no point in the game up to now had I felt any tension whatsoever. For me watching Oxford that is a very rare situation to be in.

Looking at what had already come to pass made it a case of thinking just how many are we going to go on and score here?

For some reason the game changed beyond all recognition from here on in and that Jack Stevens ended up as man of the match by a country mile speaks volumes. Yes we kept a clean sheet for the third game on the trot and yes we won but any analysis of the whole 90 plus minutes informs that we’ve still got a very long way to go to be considered one of the top outfits in football’s tier 3 with genuine promotion credentials.

Wimbledon suddenly came alive and upped their work rate. We were now being closed down and no longer had the answer as to how to work around what they were doing. We became sloppy and had to rely on Stevens pulling off many superb saves.

In the final analysis even though they only had 44% possession, Wimbledon had 16 shots, eight of which were on target compared to six and three for us. They’re probably dreaming what might have been if they’d not been without their injured goal-scoring machine Joe Piggott. He’s joint second top scorer in our division with ten league goals two ahead of Taylor who’s now joint fifth.

We were no longer able to control the ball as we had done and certainly couldn’t control the game. What we needed was probably more experienced heads who saw the need to calm things down and just keep the ball with simple passes for a spell here and there before calculating that it was time to thrust forward again. I’d never expected Cameron Brannagan to start this game and it was no surprise to me that he wasn’t on the bench, but if fully match fit he’d have been really useful here. He’s someone who always seems to be in space in his own half making himself available for a colleague to pass to and makes it clear he wants the ball. He’ll then move it on as appropriate.

As our grip disappeared so did some of our players who’d been prominent when we’d been in the ascendancy.

I’m convinced a third Oxford goal would have broken our opponents and if that had come with a reasonable amount of minutes left on the clock we would then have done our goal difference a big favour.

For all of our inability to dictate the last three quarters of the game in the thrilling fashion we had in the first quarter, there was a move here and a move there when we did bring football that was pleasing on the eye back to the contest. The finishing was gone though. A pass too many and a shot spurned when in a very good shooting position.  At the end of the first period others had good cause to shoot but instead opted for the supposed less greedy team player approach and set up Marcus McGuane for a really easy chance which he buggered up. Now that MM has settled well he does at times show what I’m guessing he did get from Barcelona B. This though was more Barton B (and apologies to anyone connected to that club, if it indeed exists).

In the second half substitutions were made. On 69 minutes Kelly went off and Dan Agyei came on. In the 80th minute McGuane and Obita were withdrawn and replaced with Jamie Hanson and Olamide Shodipo. I didn’t think any of this changed the pattern of the game. In fact I shouted at both Agyei and Shodipo because I thought they should have done better in keeping the ball and making us more defensively sound in front of our back line. Dwelling on it and getting robbed is not helpful. However having thought about this a bit they weren’t the only ones who’d been guilty of that. Most of the others? Possibly but I’ll give James Henry a positive mention here. Twice he kept the ball out when guarding a post at set pieces. Things like that are easy to overlook. They’re not spectacular but can be just as valuable as a goal scored.

And in the interest of balance Agyei and Shodipo both then did contribute in keeping our goal intact. The former with a diving header to get the ball out for a corner.

At the end of the game my son said that he’d looked at me and could not understand how on edge I’d got. He said he didn’t think the result was ever in any doubt even if we didn’t play that well after we’d scored our second.

I wish I could be that cool. I’ve watched us many more times than he has. My reasoning here was that if we’d let one in that would enthuse Wimbledon even more and much as I’ve been mightily impressed with Jack Stevens, who’s justified with interest his starting spot, luck has been on his side to an amazing extent. Yet again the post came to his rescue. The ball came back off it and hit him on the head before going out for a corner. Many times ball hits keeper’s bonce and an oggie is score.

I’m worried that there’s a balance to be had with bad luck waiting to have its day.  Nah, perhaps these things don’t even themselves out.

Our fourth and final substitute was Sean Clare who only had one minute plus the five added but again I very much liked what I saw of him not in the RB position.

We’ve got more than eleven players who would be worthy starters and it is the manager’s job to get the balance of the team right. I’d not realised until it was mentioned during the commentary that we play again on Tuesday. Planning ahead for away trips is no longer on the agenda. None of this what times do the pubs there open, which are in the GBG and what beer do they serve?

Robbo will have to make at least one change for that visit to Plymouth with the collector of yellow cards achieving another full set here. As the most natural replacement Hanson in for Gorrin?

And given that it is the season of goodwill I’m going say well done Sam Purkiss. Rare indeed for me to praise a referee but impressed by the way he penalised shirt pulling and took a grown up approach when giving players a warning.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 27th, 2020 at 11:54 am and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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