Battling Blues silence noisy neighbours

IMG_5251Blues 5 – 2 Brookes

The Oxford Blues thrashed rivals Brookes in the second annual Xchanging Varsity football match, with a streaker stealing the headlines once again.

For the second year running a naked fan emerged from the away end and ran around the pitch before disappearing towards the Iffley Road and freedom. Unfortunately for Brookes their defence was as limp and lifeless as exhibitionist’s display with countless errors punished by their victorious hosts.

This fixture may not command the tradition and authority of the more celebrated Varsity but the 5-2 scoreline served as the perfect warm-up for a trip to the other place.

“Both teams are desperate to win,” asserted Blues and Oxford United coach Micky Lewis ahead of the game. “This is great preparation for Cambridge.”

As for the Blues’ noisy neighbours, coach Dan Bond simply stated, “This game means a lot to me, and probably more to the players. It’s the biggest game they will play in their lives”.

Behind the two benches the ground was packed out by “Dan Bond’s Barmy Army”, the vocal and impressive away support, who immediately began singing “Keep the Brookes flag flying high” to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’.

“It’s like West Ham-Millwall,” one of the self-styled Brookes Ultras eagerly claimed before kick-off.

However, the hilarity did not stop with the ‘Ultras’ of Headington and Harcourt Hill. The officials, who came out to warm up did so with a small child joining in. “Looks like the ref can’t get a babysitter,” grumbled one Blues fan. This proved not to be the case, as Tom Haddrell, 11 years old, proceeded to run the line for the whole 90 minutes with the youngster claiming to be in his third year of officiating. If Haddrell appears in the Premier League, you heard it here first.

When the game eventually got underway it began with a bang. Barely two minutes in, a catastrophically poor touch by the Brookes left back gifted wing-man Ed Grimer with an early goal. Iffley erupted, temporarily drowning out the Brookes fans.

The Oxford crowd was subjected to prolonged class-based chanting, including such gems as, “Does your butler know you’re here?” and “Will your chauffeur pick you up?” but the Blues kept the home faithful happy by keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

Mark Jamison, in only his second outing for the Blues, met an Alex Biggs corner powerfully to score. This was followed up by more defensive errors from Brookes, with a misguided header back to the goalkeeper rewarding the hard running of Peder Beck-Friis with an opportunity to increase the lead.

The Swedish striker had to work hard for his debut Varsity goal, bravely stooping amongst the flying boots to head home his fourth of the season.

The Blues seemed content to let their pressing game in the midfield provide them with chances from Brookes errors and cede much of the possession to the men in the green and white kit. Brookes’ misery was further compounded when Julian Austin coolly side-footed another past the hapless Brookes custodian on 30 minutes. This finally brought the Blues fans to life, with the ball shepherded back to the centre spot amid chants of “your team’s embarrassing”.

The first half was typified by a competent Blues team which took their chances, kept their shape and defended well.

Brookes, on the other hand, imploded under the Iffley Road lights. Perhaps Dan Bond’s comments said it all. Such terrible errors and poor marking from corners belie a team which is otherwise doing fairly comfortably in division two of the BUCS league. Maybe the noisy neighbours wanted it too much. Whatever the explanation, the game was effectively over after half an hour.

This did nothing to deter the Brookes fans. On 40 minutes, after some time spent abusing Blues’ right back Michael Moneke, the chant went up: “Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal”, followed immediately by the sight of the Poznan on the Iffley terraces.

Brookes responded immediately, scoring from a soft free kick from the edge of the Blues box. The men from Brookes went crazy as the consolation went in. This did nothing to prevent the Bond from ordering the whole Brookes bench to warm up at the break.

The second half by contrast was something of a let down. Whilst no one expected another five goals, both teams seemed to be content to let the game play out, with neither Brookes nor the Blues really pushing on for glory.

This was until the referee decided to award Brookes perhaps the softest penalty Iffley has ever seen. Dispatched, the game still refused to sparkle, with Brookes unable, seemingly, to chase the game. Any possibility of a miracle was killed when Adam Healy glanced home another Biggs free-kick.

However, the game got progressively nastier, with the referee refusing to book a Brookes midfielder after kicking a prostrate Blues player. Moneke was also repeatedly the subject of late challenges, which were the only contribution from the Brookes left winger throughout the game.

In reality, the second half went to the fans. Brookes gave us the surreal gem that is “Shoes up, if you love the Brookes”, brandishing their footwear at Blues fans, to be met with “You’ve only got one pair”. As the game descended into crash and bang football, the fans’ antagonism increased. “I’d rather be in Baghdad than in Brookes,” was roared by a small group of Blues fans towards the away end.

So ended an entertaining night. The noisy neighbours routed, the streaker eventually apprehended by the constabulary in the bushes behind the pitch, and OUAFC taking another step towards success.

PHOTO/Matt Handley