Thursday, 15 November 2012

When Your Hobby Becomes a Chore

With crowds down by an alarming number so far this season (our average attendance this season is more than 1,000 below last season's average), Adam Brown writes of the increasing apathy that he and many others have been feeling for the club recently.

Since a tender age, my Saturdays have followed a similar, sometimes identical pattern. I wake up, have breakfast and shower. As I got older you could add shave (occasionally). Get dressed. Go to the football.

Following Oxford United, I've been to 103 separate football grounds (104 on Saturday), and at no point during that span of 15 years I've been going have I ever been less enthralled or excited for the prospect of Saturday arising.

I'll happily concede we've watched worse teams in the sacred Yellow. I'll even concede the style of football remains more entertaining than the repetitive sleep-inducing anti-football Ian Atkins consistently churned out. However, be it me having a greater understanding of the game now then when Atkins was in charge, or be it I'm part of an impatient crop of fellow Oxford fans who want success as soon as we can, quite frankly, I'm bored.

This Saturday, Torquay United at home, off the back of a morale-crippling 3-2 home defeat to lowly Dagenham & Redbridge (who sit above us in the table) was met with an increased, yet still underwhelming crowd of 5,700+.

The whole atmosphere in and around the ground was subdued, flat and as if we've all been collectively summoned and this was some form of enforced purgatory. It's not! We pay our hard earned (or in my case, student loan) money to watch this. It's an addiction that grapples with millions of others over the country, but for me right now, it's more a habit than a privilege.

I would argue at this moment in time watching Oxford is like still watching Skins, you know what will happen, you'll undoubtedly be disappointed, but you watch, just in case.

A 0-0 draw ensued with the Gulls, often a proverbial 'bogey team', but again, especially the first half left a bitter taste of seldom seen frustration at the lack of activity on show.

Sarcasm was the main entree being served in the stands, with repetitive jokes in store for Simon Heslop, the once important centre midfielder whose season has entailed spells on the right wing, on the bench and as the scapegoat for the baying crowd.

In defence of Heslop, he's been forced into an uncomfortable position, was adequate when called upon Saturday, and was far from the poster child of ineptitude in the performance.

With remarks about our never-changing kickoff routine (knock back, diagonally kicked, in touch. In rugby, it's called territory) all the way through to the baffling substitution that occurred. The aforementioned Heslop was replaced by Chapman, another naturally central player forced onto the wing. (Square pegs and round holes anyone?)

But alas, it wasn't any of this that really irked me. It wasn't even the spurned chances and dominance we showed in the last 20 minutes, if anything that had me encouraged. It's the complete lack of appreciation which is now being shown to the fans.

I would happily sit here and criticise some of what football fans (ours included) do. However, what should be a given is an applause from the players and the staff after every game. All we receive is half-hearted clap from the players and a manager who's halfway down the tunnel and in the changing rooms by the time I've left the East Stand.

The complete lack of appreciation, the disconnect between the once inseparable bond of Oxford United and its supporters (think back to after our 5 point deduction in 2009, the siege mentality we all took on).

It could be easy to cite the results and the performances, and it is. It's no secret, the end of last season was quite frankly pathetic. Two points from our last seven games, then to watch Crewe who pipped us to the post celebrating. It left me sour.

Last season should remain that though. In the past. This season started with such optimism and flair. Then as players returned from injury, the squad got deeper, stronger and more equipped for the challenge ahead, we stagnated. A head-scratcher to say the least.

A thumping win over Accrington, two away wins at Wycombe and Barnet, and by all accounts a decent, yet unsuccessful performance against Rochdale led many, me included, to thinking perhaps the metaphorical corner was turned. I was wrong.

More peculiar managerial selection saw Michael Raynes start instead of the fit, yet rested(?) Johnny Mullins, who's been nothing short of a rock in his brief spell at the Kas Stad.

This Saturday, I'll travel to Chesterfield. I'll take the train from my house to Leicester, then over to Chesterfield. I'll do it because this team of people I'll never meet or probably speak to have more effect on my life than almost anything else.

I'll be there, but to say I'm 'excited' about it, or even optimistic is a far cry. Still beats doing the washing up though.

Find this article in its original form here.

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