STOP THE MADNESS

From the Rage Online newsdesk Wednesday, May 1st, 1996  

STOP THE MADNESS

Swindon Town at the Manor, 19th March – An unforgettable evening. Despite supporting Oxford for eighteen seasons this was the first victory I’d seen against Swindon. In 1982 when we beat them 5-0 I was on holiday in Devon with the parents. I ran down to the local newsagents at the crack of dawn, bought the paper and couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned to the back page.

Ten years later 1 was in the rather more exotic location of Fort Myers, Florida when we beat them 5-3. Not wanting to wait 3 days for English papers to hit American newsstands (and pay ten dollars for a Daily Mirror) I phoned home to get the result. My Mum answered, and from across the Atlantic came four unforgettable words, ‘YOU MISSED A CRACKER!’

We all know the feeling. Joyousness at the result, and utter frustration because we hadn’t been there to see it all for ourselves. Similar feelings followed the home games against Swansea and Burnley, when I stupidly agreed to work all day and gave my season ticket to someone else. I’ll miss Wycombe away for the same reason, so expect a resounding Oxford victory.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the Swindon game where despite the brilliance of it all, the atmosphere was again frighteningly hostile. As was the case at the County Ground in August, hundreds turned up in search of trouble. Not just a gaggle of teenagers and twenty somethings in casual gear, but blokes who were undoubtedly the wrong side of forty. The one evening when it seems OK to leave the wife and kids at home, forget all sense of responsibility and head out for a ruck.

The hatred hung heavy in the air all evening. It was there in the songs; The obscene gestures; The (thankfully wayward) missiles; The horrific abuse directed at any Swindon player when taking a comer at the London Road end, even when we were two nil up and coasting to victory (surely a time for complete celebration rather than open displays of malevolence and venom). The arrests may have been few and far between, but this was due in no small part to a massive police presence with a well-organised strategy to combat the thugs.

Issue 39 of Raging Bull contained two excellent articles by Ed Horton and Anne Merriman, editor of the Swindon fanzine The 69er. Never has it been more important for supporters to read, absorb and act upon the joint appeal put forward within their respective features.

To reiterate one particular point, visiting supporters should always be welcomed as our guests and we should enjoy each other’s company, albeit at opposite ends of the ground. Remember York at home back in September? Wasn’t it funny? Surely an element of camaraderie and banter is preferable to a climate of animosity and pure hatred.

Having attended my first match at The County Ground earlier this season I can’t see myself rushing back in a hurry, and I’m sure many Swindon fans feel the same way having been to The Manor. This in itself is a desperately sad state of affairs. I’d happily return to Carlisle, Stockport or Blackpool, but a thirty mile trip down the A420 feels like too much hassle.

Of course only a minority of those present are genuinely seeking out trouble and eager to get into a fight. At the most I’d guess a couple of hundred from each town in a crowd of 8,500. Still a scary figure (and disproportionate compared to other league matches) but it does mean that over 95% of the attendance have no interest in violence.

The problem is exacerbated by the hundreds who innocently participate in the petty hard-act works that surround any Oxford v Swindon fixture; The gestures, the vehemently anti-Swindon songs, all of which are apparently harmless but threatening nonetheless. This fuels the already hostile climate, creating an adrenaline rush for the thugs, which can so often be the catalyst for violence. Take away the exhibitions of malignancy and the idiots should stay away leaving the rest of us to enjoy the game.

Articles released by two separate media sources before and after the game will have only served to intensify hostilities.

Firstly, the editors of the Oxford Mail should hang their heads in shame. Their astonishingly childish and unprofessional rubbishing of Swindon did nothing but damage relations between the two towns in the build up to the game. The assistant editor even appeared on Central News South, not to apologise for sparking a petty squabble, but to continue the vitriolic campaign on T.V! Oxford, she claimed, is superior to Swindon because (among other achievements) we have spawned the likes of Radiohead and Supergrass. Pathetic.

The second issue came to light when surfing the Internet for the first time the day after the Swindon match and quickly located the Oxford United home page. A ham-fisted match report was preceded by the bold headline ‘We Beat The Scum Three Nil’. Ian Turner is generally doing an admirable job with his unofficial web page, but continual and unnecessary use of ‘scum’ references is hardly going to calm matters, particularly when the information is so widely available.

Civilised supporters will know only too well that the committed hooligan is beyond reason. No amount of persuasion will alter their mentality. But we can refrain from the hard-act works mentioned previously thereby giving the hooligan element nothing but there own sick intentions to feed off. If we can starve the game of the hostility and malevolence it won’ t make Oxford-Swindon fixtures any less passionate, nor will it take away the atmosphere. But we will be able to arrive and leave in safety, and enjoy the match without feeling in any way threatened. It makes a lot of sense really.

Paul Beevers

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