Our My First Oxford Match series returns with these fantastic reminiscences of the Beech Road benches from Adam Brown. We're still looking for contributions to this series, and would really appreciate your memories of your first match, no matter how hazy they may be. If you're interested just email your recollections to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be gratefully received!
Oxford United 1-1 Bury (15/11/97)
It's 1997, it’s cold and I’m out of my element. I’m a five year old boy on his way to his first football match.
Everyday since I can remember, Saturdays often meant my Dad departing for parts of the day, this varied week to week. Sometimes it would be a few hours, sometimes the whole day.
At this moment in time, all I knew about football, is that when we played in school, teams had different coloured bibs, Premier League stickers were the small price of 30p, and that Oxford United were playing Bury that afternoon.
With it being mid-November, I would like to believe, my Dad engineered this cunning idea to bring me to football, make sure I don’t follow my peers into throwing my metaphorical hat into the ring of the big clubs, and get me out of Christmas shopping. And in return, all he had to do was make sure I was safe and warm. I think we got the best of that deal.
I don’t remember travelling specifically to that game, however I do remember that the majority of time we went to the Manor, we parked at Cheney School, walked what seemed like miles upon miles, and ended up at the place that would define my pre-teenage life. The Beech Road.
The Beech Road, famous for it’s rickety, decaying benches, yet at 5 years old, not having anything to compare it to, to me they were state-of-the-art. I took my seat, seemingly the only person under the age of 20, and the only one to my untrained, youthful eye, under 7 foot 3.
I remember being told about all the stands in the ground, to the right there was the ‘London Road’. The crown jewel of the stadium, a stand I think I went in once, although I can’t be certain. Then there was the ‘Osler Road’ and the ‘Cuckoo Lane’. I always remember for some peculiar reason finding it mildly hilarious that there was a big white block in the ‘Cuckoo Lane’ with Oxford Mail on.
I do have a recollection of the first booming chorus of “YELLOWS, YELLOWS” echoing from the London Road after being awarded a corner. I remember jumping, wary, but it was okay, they were on our side. A few joined in around us, I looked around at the menacing faces. I probably missed the corner.
The game itself seemed to be all Oxford, but I did spend long spells of it pretending the match day programme was a telescope, and watching different players at different points. (I basically invented what Sky Sports later called PlayerCam).
I’m not sure what order the next two things happen, but their both pretty crucial to me returning to the Manor. The first being at half time, going out of the stand, to what I remember being a clubhouse. They sold penny sweets. I was sorted.
They also had an array of pennants from other clubs. From all the big clubs down to Corby Town, something I didn’t understand for years, until I learnt that’s where Matt Murphy signed. I’m assuming that’s why.
The other reason being Oxford’s goal. Scored by Nicky Banger, I remember it nestling in the net right in front of the London Road, sparking scenes of wild celebration, to the left, to the right, behind, in front. There jumping up and down like maniacs. I joined in, just like everyone else, I too was a maniac, and I loved it.
Bury equalise, Chris Swailes if my memory serves me right. There are not many Bury fans, they do what we did, just not as well. I’m giving them evil glances through my programme made telescope. It's 1-1, but people say we’ll still win. They lied.
The game ends 1-1. I’m happy, until a man says “we should be winning games like that”, I overhear and get annoyed, turn to my dad and say “we should be winning games like that”. He agrees. Bobby Ford (I think) hit the bar late on, that in itself was great to see, almost like a goal the way everyone in harmony roared “yeahhhhhhh….ooooooo”.
Bobby Ford is brilliant, he was the best player in that team, I think. He gets sold not long after, I get told this at a bowling alley. He’s gone to Sheffield United. For years I hate Sheffield United (then Neil Warnock re-affirmed that, but I digress). I hate bowling alleys for years too. They’re obviously jinxed.
The following Monday I raced into school. Everyone lined up for football, and whilst everyone else wanted to be Bergkamp or Beckham. Everytime I got the ball, I was Nicky Banger.
15 years, 3 relegations, 2 stadiums, lots of financial ruin, over 100 grounds and one magical day at Wembley later. I’m more than pleased I don’t follow Arsenal, Man United or Liverpool from the armchair. I followed my team from a state-of-the-art bench.