A pie, a police chase, and a poorly built stadium: an away day at Oxford United
February 25th was the day I had been waiting for ever since I confirmed my place at Oxford. It brought the chance to watch my beloved Bristol Rovers face Oxford United away at the Kassam Stadium. Both sides entered the game winless in their previous six League One fixtures, making the fixture crucial to regain momentum and avoid entering the relegation battle.
A half-hour bus journey from the city centre left us a short walk away from the stadium, passing by laser tag, bingo and bowling venues – all undoubtedly tempting alternative forms of entertainment for Oxford fans during this difficult run of form. The latter, Hollywood Bowl, was an unlikely source of pre-match activity – with fans of both sides packed amongst the arcade games in the queue for a drink. While there were mentions of combat between the two sets of fans in the stadium’s car park, a large police presence limited any clear problems leading up to kick-off.
Although not picturesque, the away end was decorated with an array of stickers from each fanbase it had housed.
No complaints could be made about Oxford’s “footy scran”, with a top-tier steak and ale pie coming in at £4 – a reasonable price compared to many grounds’ stalls.
Chants of “we’ll sit where we want” rang around the Kassam, as the many Rovers fans disobeyed the seat allocations in a bid to stand closer to the neighbouring United supporters – for obvious reasons. The growing atmosphere provided by the sold-out away end as kick-off approached was not matched in any sense by the home crowd. A desperate attempt to encourage some cheers during Oxford’s line-up announcement fell flat, setting the tone for a chant-less afternoon.
Two Rovers goals in quick succession after 20 minutes of play brought the best out of the away day experience – with our fans strongly in voice for the remainder of the half. Shortly after, attention shifted away from the game as commotion unfolded off the pitch. The Kassam Stadium’s strangely incomplete structure, with three stands and an exposed open space behind one goal, provided a perfect view of a comical police foot chase in the car park.
Any chance of reviving the spirit of those in the unfilled United stands at half time diminished, as Rovers entered the break with a comfortable margin. This must have been expected, as a highly unpassionate quiz was the half-time entertainment of choice.
The second half saw signs of hope return for Oxford United, with further pressure on Rovers resulting in many early chances. With the aid of the continued, emphatic support, Rovers held firm despite multiple defensive howlers – notching a third goal to secure the three points. The view of the Kassam’s car park came to good use once again after this, as “cheerio” was sung to those flooding out of the stadium early.
Among those who remained until the final whistle were two United fans that hung a “time to go Karl” banner from the largely empty stand opposite the away end – signalling their discontent with manager Karl Robinson. The duo grappled with the banner desperately as it flapped in the wind. Even when the message was eventually clear to see, it faced in the opposite direction to the views of both Robinson and the box seats where the United board would be seated. Nevertheless, these two were not the only ones with this opinion.
The moments of the afternoon that united the two sets of fans were joint chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning”.
As the game concluded, Rovers fans basked in the glory of securing a league win after a painful wait by celebrating with the players – then receiving Klopp-like fist pumps from manager Joey Barton. The victory continued a remarkable hot streak for Rovers at the Kassam Stadium, with the side now winning during seven of their last nine visits to Oxford – making it a safe away day as far as getting a good result is concerned. As the away fans remained in numbers beyond the final whistle, the home crowd understandably vanished – bar the duo with the banner. Their hopeful shouts of anger down to the touchline were not in vain, as Karl Robinson’s sacking was announced by United less than 24 hours after the end of the game.
My first away day at Oxford United’s Kassam stadium was a brilliant one. It could be argued that this was largely because of the result of the game and the nature of the away fans – both dependent on the supported side. Nevertheless, the odd placement and structure of the Kassam Stadium provided a backdrop for moments of madness that would have made the game memorable regardless of the outcome.
Image description: Photos of Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium