Oxford 2 Macclesfield 1

Oxford United 2 Macclesfield Town 1 (28/12/2010)

Although I’d visited Oxford’s old Manor Ground several times, I’d never made the short journey to their new stadium. I’d been past during part of the three year hiatus in building work, and the ground, in all of if its stark half-finished concrete bleakness, did not exactly set the pulse racing with anticipation. An invitiation to join a friend going to the game at the end of last year gave me the chance to see if I’d been assuming the worst.

The bad weather which had wreaked havoc across the south had pretty much abated around Reading, so it was a bit of a surprise to see snow still in Oxford. It wasn’t a problem at all for driving now, but you wouldn’t want to walk too far in it. Unfortunately attempts at parking in the least organised car park known to mankind, next to the ground, proved futile. We followed signs indicating “parking” on the roads outside instead, but they just seemed to go on forever, past joyless roundabout after joyless roundabout. I’ve no idea if there ever was a parking area, but after a worryingly long drive, we found a space to pull over at the side of the road. It was a 2km walk or so. It took 20 minutes – not so bad on a nice day, but not best through snow and slush. Actually if it had just been snow and slush, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Instead, the path to ground was riddled with dog turds. It was as if Ranulph Fiennes had been training down this path with a large team of huskies for the past fortnight. If I’d had skis I could probably have turned it into a dog doo slalom for a bit of challenging fun. Instead it was just a case of looking down, and looking out for the numerous brown spots.

To be fair, I was quite pleasantly surprised outside. The main stand’s exterior was finished in stone rather than concrete or warehouse cladding, and a curving glass wall impressed. A statue of an Ox outside was a nice touch too, even if less than a month later it was vandalised and painted pink.

Inside though, all is not so good. It wouldn’t be realistic to expect Oxford’s football ground to match the architecture of the colleges a couple of miles north, and none of the stands are bad or grotty in any way. It’s just that they are just so generic and ordinary. They are functional, and that’s the limit of ambition. Even the shade of blue used for the seats is dreary. It could be worse, but you feel it could also have been a whole lot better. Two single tier stands, at a side and an end, hold around 8000 between them, but it’s hard to say much else about them. The main stand is again smarter, with two tiers and a row of executive boxes, but even here things could be better. The seating arrangements could be most kindly described as cosy, as if the stand’s designers thought football fans typically had the physique of Charlie Hawtrey and the height of wee Jimmy Krankie. At least it meant you could keep warm in a large crowd on a bitterly cold day.

The strange thing is that the worst part of the ground, the west stand at the other end, is probably what adds a bit of character to the ground. It’s the worst part because it just doesn’t exist. Where the perimiter wall of a stand should start, instead stands a 10′ high wall, with a car park directly behind it. It’s so dreadful that it somehow makes the other three stands not look as bad, just as Luke Chadwick would make the Lloyd-Webber brothers more handsome if he’d been a third sibling.

With respect, it has to be said that the Manor Ground also had a face that only a mother could love, but at least it was distrinctive. If the surroundings have disappointed Oxford fans though, they haven’t shown it. Crowds have been very good at the Kassam, and they can pull as much in the 4th tier here as they used to get in the 2nd tier at the Manor.

And full credit too for the enthusiasm of the home support. A home game on a cold day v Macclesfield isn’t one that the fans eagerly await, yet the Oxford faithful behind the goal got behind the team with some gusto. Their efforts were rewarded after about a quarter of an hour, when determination up front won the chance to open the scoring. Macclesfield had been the better side, but a breakaway allowed Oxford to take the lead.

If Oxford thought they would take control, they were mistaken though. More and more often, Macclesfield got into dangerous positions, but they kept missing the chances that came their way.

As half-time came, so did the fog. Minute by minute you could see the visibility decreasing as the far car park, then the trees, then the near car park all vanished. By the start of the second half you could barely see the stand on the other side of the pitch. If it kept on getting worse, the game probably wouldn’t finish. Luckily that was as bad as it got in terms of weather. In terms of the score, it did get worse for Macclesfield. Again, with them having much of the play, and little joy in front of goal, it was the home side who showed how it was done. They were probably unlucky as a good defensive block fell straight to an Oxford player, who wasted no time in banging it back in for 2-0.

Towards the end Macclesfield did pull one back, but it was too little, too late, and little consolation. It would be a long and difficult journey home, so I suppose it’s for the best that only 68 braved the trip down. Watching that Bond film while eating turkey leftovers probably was the better option in hindsight. At least they didn’t have the fun of the booby-trapped footpath – in the dark – to look forward.

(the city photos, as should be obvious, were not taken on that foggy day in December)


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