In August 2010 three Maidenhead United fans were banned from attending home games, by a kangaroo court, for crimes they didn't commit.
These men promptly encountered a jobsworth security blockade, and so escaped to the non-league underground.
Today, still stigmatised by the MUFC Ltd hierarchy, they survive as supporters of fancy.
If you enjoy a train away day - and if you can find them - then maybe you can share a drink with ... the K-team!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Away Day Diary: Oxford United 0-2 Bristol Rovers (09/02/13)

(Photo Credit: Unfortunately unknown. This excellent image was posted on the now closed BRFC Alternative Form. The previous URL is no longer in use and I cannot find another copy online, which is a shame. Will remove, of course, if asked to do so.)
Macleod (M) and I had been keeping Saturday 9th February free in the hope/expectation of another trip (relatively locally) to see Whitley Bay in FA Vase action (a la Herne Bay, for example). Northwood Mark's boys, however, would draw Northern League Division One rivals Shildon in the 5th Round ... and would then lose their re-arranged 4th Round tie with Brantham Athletic anyway (allowing them to instead host a friendly, against Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv, on the 10th).  

Starved of recent live match action - largely due to the weather (Winchester City vs Cinderford Town, Dover at York Road) and apathy (Weston away) - Macleod (M) suggested we attend the Oxford United vs Bristol Rovers game, despite the fact that we'd both been to the distinctly unappealing Kassam Stadium before (me with the wife, for this very fixture, the season before last). Back to something resembling full health after nearly an entire week in bed with sinusitis - and bearing in mind Rovers' excellent recent form under the returning John Ward (13 points from six games, in 2013) - I didn't need much, if any, encouragement ...


^^^ We arrived, with time to spare, ahead of the 10:04 from Maidenhead ...


^^^ A good job we did, as it transpired that one of the cans of G had sprung a leak ...


^^^ Cue a thorough clean-up operation - we're not heathens after all!


^^^ Crusha Mixa anyone?! I was reminded of the bottles of Mixer (60% beer and 40% cola, with added X) that Macleod (C) and I had once enjoyed on a journey from Chemnitz to Leipzig. Topics of conversation on the direct train to Oxford included 'Against Modern Football' (incorporating Christopher Samba's reported wage at QPR, the Puna Stand, Oxford United's old Manor Ground and the conclusion that - as is often the case - things are 'fifty shades of grey' rather than simply black or white), the remarkably lofty position of VfR Aalen - who we saw win at Carl Zeiss Jena during the aforementioned Leipzig trip - in the Bundesliga II table (they now sit 9th, after just one win in their last five games) and the Punk Britannia series (shown on BBC4 last summer but which I had only just watched, on my sick bed, the previous week). A group of cap-wearing, middle-aged Rovers fans (with some youngsters in tow) disembarked the train, in error, at Appleford (and/or Culham?) before finally departing at Radley. I mocked them, bewildered as to why they were spurning the delights of Oxford town centre. It transpires they were much cleverer than they looked ...


^^^ So much for a pre-match pub crawl of historic Oxford! Straight from the train we were herded - with seemingly every other white male - out a side exit, past waiting video cameras, to a small and distinctly unappealing Thai restaurant-cum-pub. It was not even 11:30 and already the place was near capacity, with Rovers fans prevented from leaving by a wall of fluorescent-jacketed riot police. As I muscled (!) my way to the bar, Macleod (M) headed to the toilets where, he would later divulge, someone was already bringing up their breakfast. Asahi on tap was, it transpired, off so I ordered us two pints of Guinness. We stood outside, in the freezing cold, as it was too crowded inside. Apparently we were to be held there, before being transported to the ground, "for (y)our own safety and that of the public". Great! There was plenty of Stone Island and Aquascutum clobber on display, TBF, but previously the Rovers fans had been held in the much nicer (and bigger) Duke's Cut. Thankfully, as we finished our pints, we managed to persuade one of the policemen to let us go into town after explaining that we weren't from Bristol (true) and we wanted/needed to get some food (not true). After agreeing to remove our colours (I was wearing a Rovers scarf, Murdo a Carl Zeiss Jena one), we were allowed to break the line and head towards town. However, after less than a minute's walk we were held again, as we approached the nearby railway bridge. Another policeman sprinted over to ask, with some incredulity, what we thought we were doing. It transpired that he was the Sergeant ... let's call him Sergeant Ali Affirmative-Action. After repeating to him exactly what we had told his colleague, who had let us go, Sergeant Affirmative-Action went and confirmed this conversation had taken place before demanding that we leave our details. As such, our names and addresses went into a notebook, checks were done over the radio (Murdo was asked if he had any middle names!) and Sergeant Affirmative-Action also took close-up photos of us with his phone. I bit my tongue rather than comment on how I could now empathise with persecuted minorities. I also refrained - albeit just about - from asking if I could take his photo. Eventually we were allowed under the bridge and, as light rain began to fall, we passed the aforementioned Duke's Cut and approached the Westgate shopping centre, now the (rather ugly) heart of this historic city.


^^^ I had been impressed with the Old Tom, on my last visit, and so we headed straight there. It was almost empty as we entered but quite the opposite when we left. Topics of conversation here, over further pints of Guinness, included The Doors (prompted by a BBC4 documentary, I'd seen the night before, on the making of the LA Woman album), 'Apocalypse Now - greatest film ever?' and the impact of social media on the music industry. We were tempted by the delicious-looking and smelling Thai food but instead decided on pasties from the newsagents next door. Time for a quick photo of a freezing Macleod (M) outside the spectacular Christ Church (FACT: Christ Church College, Oxford, has produced 13 British Prime Ministers) before we caught the 13:50 106C bus to the Kassam.


^^^ As per my last visit, the bus was stuck in heavy traffic as it approached the stadium. I asked the driver if we could be let out early, to walk the remaining distance. He seemed reluctant, initially, but then did pull over and opened the doors. The bus emptied. Unlike my last visit, we decided for a pre-match drink in the Priory ... 


^^^ Fancy Dress optional?! Sort it out, Lionel Vinyl!


^^^ Keep the faith! Not sure if this is/was a designated away fans pub? Regardless, it was unsurprisingly busy. Again, there was plenty of Stone Island and Aquascutum on display. We sat on a window sill and had a decent view of the commotion outside as some Rovers fans reacted, to being charged by a group of locals, and then scuffled with police. The bar was promptly shut and, after a lengthy queue for the urinals, we headed to the ground.


^^^ As we traipsed a muddy path one middle-aged Oxford fan attempted to fight the group of Rovers fans in front of us. He was, unsurprisingly, accosted by the police almost immediately. The rather childish - from both sides - 'hold me back, hold me back' posturing continued across the car park. It was at this point that Macleod (M) and I would bump - almost literally - into Sergeant Ali Affirmative-Action, from earlier, looking rather panicky this time. "I thought you two said you weren't going to the football" he screeched, sarcastically. If he didn't already have his hands full grappling one of the cap-wearing, Darti Brown-esque 'hard men' then I've no doubt we would have been in big trouble (despite the fact that at no point did we say to him - or any of his colleagues - that we weren't going to the football). He is the type of egotistical, condescending, over-promoted, jobsworth arse that give the police a bad rep. Where were his ilk during the nationwide riots of 2011? Hiding behind a desk or - at best - a video camera, one suspects.


^^^ £21.50 was the cost of a ticket. As aforementioned, the #amf debate isn't as black and white as some would have you believe. That said, football in this country is now MASSIVELY over-priced.


^^^ Macleod (M) and I are, at heart, non-league football fans. As such, we much prefer standing at games. Fortunately, as a Leeds United follower, Macleod (M) doesn't often have to endure sitting, even at league grounds. Over 1,900 Rovers fans were in the away section on this occasion and, to my huge surprise, the stewards/police didn't move to expand the available seating (the Rovers fans had done this, themselves, in 2011!). This meant that there wasn't nearly enough space. £21.50 for a non-existent seat! Instead of being forced to sit, we had to stand in the yellow-painted gangways! We didn't mind (breach of trading standards notwithstanding - geddit?!) ... but I suspect that Rasher will be writing a retrospective banning order, post-haste! Dear Murdo ...


^^^ Educated Left Foot had, the day before the game, tweeted the above. Now, I never had the pleasure of attending the Manor Ground (I'm not even sure where exactly, in Oxford, it was) - and I fully appreciate that I seldom pass up an opportunity to comment on how run-down York Road is looking - but I'd wager that Oxford's former home is held in great affection, certainly when compared to the out-of-town, unfinished, soul-less Kassam Stadium ...


^^^ #mistyeyednostalgia anyone?


^^^ Obligatory match shot. As aforementioned, Rovers have been in a great run of form since John Ward returned to the club. A striking turnaround, bearing in mind that they looked near certainties for relegation under the hapless and seemingly clueless Mark McGhee. Significantly strengthening the spine of the team with the additions of experienced goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall, assured centre half Mark McChrystal, midfield play-maker John-Joe O'Toole and promising target man Ryan Brunt - plus playing players in their correct positions - has worked wonders. The squad appears bonded and engerised and, as is often the way, the upturn in results has seemingly gone hand-in-hand with an upsurge in confidence and good fortune. Rovers were rather lucky not to concede at Oxford, as the home side (who's newly-signed keeper was booed throughout) missed a good chance in the first half and then saw a header drop just wide in the second. Their left-back, Liam Davis, was also the game's stand-out player. But, roared on (albeit intermittently) by a tremendous travelling support, Rovers were determined, full of running, well-organised ...


^^^ ... and, ultimately, successful. A re-taken Lee Brown penalty had put the Gas ahead shortly after the interval and - as Oxford huffed and puffed - the win was sealed after a quickly-taken free-kick put Eliot Richards through, one-on-one, just before the final whistle. Richards - and seemingly every outfield player - would celebrate his goal, with obvious delight, in front of the travelling hordes. Cue a mass exodus from the home supporters, some with less-than-honorable intentions ...


^^^ Perhaps unsurprisingly, the away fans were held back from entering the car park after the game ... for what seemed like an eternity. Perhaps understandably, some of them became increasingly agitated. A helicopter hovered noisily overheard, a cameraman took photos with the aid of the biggest flashbulb I have ever seen, dogs barked angrily and the police attire - complete with batons and black, military-style helmets - hinted at an aggressive, non-conciliatory tone. I was in a good mood, however - not only had Rovers won, but also Arsenal (at Sunderland) and MUFC (at home to Billericay Town). By the time Macleod (M) and I had been allowed through the police line, though, we'd missed our 106C bus back into town. As the next one wasn't for another 45 mins, we spoke to a steward and he directed us back the way we had come - past supporters coaches finally leaving for Bristol and down a under-pass which reminded me (not in a good way) of Didcot - towards the infamous Blackbird Leys council estate and another bus stop with a more frequent service. In the short time that we would have to wait here, it dawned on me that the middle-aged bloke that Macleod (C) and I would sometimes bump into, on nights out in Maidenhead, who we thought would drunkenly chant "Blackburn-Leeds, Blackburn-Leeds" over and over, was actually chanting "Blackbird Leys". Better late than never, eh? This bus ride - taking a completely different route to the 106C - wasn't overlong, but didn't seem to pass through the most desirable parts. Several Oxford fans were aboard. The ones I could overhear were bemoaning their club's supposed stagnation and discussing who they would like to - hypothetically - replace Chris Wilder as manager (Wilder was, of course, in charge of Halifax Town when the Magpies dumped them out of the Trophy one season; "Oh Oh Oh Oh, makes me wanna dance ... "). One of them suggested Jamie Carragher. Nuff said.


^^^ We were dropped off on the same street that we would've been if we'd gotten the 106C and so, if/when I go to the Kassam again, I might consider getting this bus instead ... if only I could work out which one it was! Anyway, as the wife and I had done in 2011, we headed straight into the very first pub we came across (the Chequers). The egg-chasing was on TV in here, though, and it was packed ... with seemingly only one person serving. We left without ordering and instead headed to the Crown, which was as good as I remembered it. After a couple in here we moved on and stumbled (not literally!) across Three Goats Heads, a Sam Smith's pub. The ale was apparently "tangy" (as indicated by the pose above). I can also confirm that the stout was pretty good.


^^^ After a 'stupid coloured drink' (or two) in the Duke's Cut - where we overheard an elderly, grey-haired, bespectacled American professor seemingly grooming his "favourite, most promising student", and witnessed a hen party hide something (Worst. Stash. Ever.) in a nearby bush - we made it back to the station in good time. With no carry-out to hand we headed to M&S, in hope rather than expectation ...


^^^ There was, unsurprisingly, no alcohol worth purchasing in M&S. There was, however, a celebrity present! The last time we were at Oxford station (travelling home after yet another Worcester City vs Maidenhead United postponement?) we had bumped into Loyd Grossman. This time, Macleod (M) spotted and chatted to the "comedian's comedian", Stewart Lee, mainly about their mutual love of The Fall. The conversation continued on the station platform, where the above photo was taken. It transpired that Lee had been speaking at a lecture about the effect of government cuts on aspiring writers, comedians, musicians etc. (Can I have a grant to sit around and do some writing? Thanks.) I immediately tweeted the above photo but, in an attempt at humour - and because I am a contrary so and so - I mentioned that we'd met with Richard Herring (the other half of the Lee & Herring double-act). Within minutes, Herring had re-tweeted the post (which surprised me, as I'd only mentioned - not hash-tagged - him) and I was soon getting countless other 're-tweeted' and 'favoured' notifications. Some of the accompanying comments were great - Lee was said to resemble Jo Brand, Dickie Davies and Morrissey, accused of plagarising Angelos Epithemiou's carrier-bag shtick and (jokingly, I'm sure) described as both a "homeless guy" and a "tramp". Macleod (M), meanwhile, was likened to an "unwell-looking" Eric Cantona and a Leeds United scarf-wearing Vinnie Jones! :-D 

An amusing end to a good day ... one that not even Thames Valley's 'finest' could ruin. I'll finish - appropriately - with a spine-tingling blast of Goodnight Irene. All together now ...