Thursday, 5 September 2013

Wake Up Oxford!

I'm a bit concerned about Oxford United. And yes, if you've read any of my previous articles for this site you'll realise that's basically the norm for me. But why should I be concerned right now? The team are still unbeaten, we're in the top three and we've scored more goals than any other side in the division. So why then do the fans still seem so apathetic?

Home attendances so far this season seem to have picked up where they left off last season. In fact, they seem to be even worse, despite the club's impressive start to the season. The 5,290 who watched last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Rochdale would have been our sixth lowest crowd last season (and is more than 700 down on the same fixture last term). A crowd of more than 7,000 for the Wycombe game might seem impressive but when you consider that we were top of the league going into that match and that when the two sides met at the Kassam in 2011 (with United 11th) it was watched by 9,309 it looks every bit as poor as our other home attendances so far.

As our campaign fizzled out last season it was easy to understand why disgruntled fans lost interest and started to drift away. We were more likely to witness a spineless collapse to a bottom half team of cloggers than we were to actually be entertained and the frankly pathetic atmosphere around the ground offered no respite from the mind-numbing fare on the pitch. But that was then, this is now. The club has undergone something of a revolution during the summer, with an overhaul of the playing squad and a change of approach from temporary loan signings to young hopefuls backing up a side of strong, 'robust' first teamers. And so far those changes have yielded results – 11 points from a possible 15 and a position towards the top of the early League Two table.

But some might say it's a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. That 'lost 1,000' who were packing out the stands not long ago are now out of the habit and may have lost touch with goings-on at the club. Or worse, maybe they've lost faith in Oxford United after years of false dawns. We've had similarly impressive starts to previous seasons before now and yet throughout the last decade we've been incapable of getting promoted from League Two. Why should it be any different this time?

Realistically, the club will still need to be in and around the top three in January before the crowds come back and despite the suggestions of some on Yellows Forum, I'm not sure that ticket offers or other campaigns will have a huge effect, except to drain more money from the coffers. There's not a lot we fans can do about that – other than to coax as many people as we know to start coming to games, of course.

What we can help is the atmosphere we create at matches we do bother to show up to. It's not just the general apathy that has carried over from last season, but many who are coming still seem desperate to find fault the team. It's like we've become incapable of mustering enthusiasm for the club, even when things are going well. Having stretched our unbeaten run to five games following last weekend's draw I find it astounding that there were some who decided to boo at the final whistle. I accept it may have been a small number, but it's not an acceptable response, given the result and the position the club is currently in.

Comments after the game declaring it 'more of the same' possibly offer more of an insight into the seemingly inexhaustible negativity of Oxford fans. We've been here before and been let down, so now we're just looking for the evidence that we're going to screw up yet again. That inevitable disappointment hurts less when you've been expecting it all along.

All of which creates a pretty unpleasant atmosphere around the club and certainly not one which is conducive to long-term success. Fans now expect failure and are reluctant to acknowledge or celebrate success. We're only five games into the season and so it's right that we shouldn't get too carried away at such an early stage, but instead of waiting for the 'inevitable' failure to follow we should be encouraging the team to build on what has been a positive start and trying to build up a head of steam – both on and off the pitch. At the moment we seem to be undermining it.

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