From the delights of Wycombe to the stereotypically brainy region of Oxford. They are brainy up this part too, I’ll absolutely vouch for them, because they were that forward thinking that they have put a cycling infrastructure in that was heaven.
Because heres a few pics of the last couple of days and what I’ve had to cycle/swim through.
Typically you’d need one of those James Bond cars that doubles up as a submarine so this is why getting here was a godsend.
Being welcomed into a town with the tagine ‘A Cycling City’ would have usually brought a happy tear to my eye, but there was a couple of flies lodged in both eyes at the time. Seeing a sign like that is like your missus telling you she’s invited her fittest mate over for a sleepover when you live in a one bed flat. Riding through here was beautiful.
And so, in a scene that wouldn’t be amiss in Mary Poppins, I happily made my way to the Kassam Stadium, house of the U’s, The Yellows, The Boys From Up The Hill, Oxford United.
And its actually a pretty stadium.
When Oxford were formed they, they were known as Headington FC as the football club was actually set up to keep Headington cricketers match fit during close season. As the years went on they struck up a fierce rivalry with local Oxon senior League heavyweights Cowley FC. This is real Celtic vs Rangers stuff here. No joke. During one match between the two, the referee awarded Cowley 2 penalties, which incensed Oxford supporters so much, they broke past security and according to the press, ‘freely baited’ the ref as a result. Which is a nice way of saying they kicked the sh*t out of him
Without cameras there to make them liable.
Now captained by John Mousinho, which actually sounds like a lower league José Mourinho, they only just missed out on the championship via the playoffs as you might have read from the blog where winning opponents Wycombe accidently left their door open and I went for a look around.
Its about time we educated the world to a team that actually have a bloody impressive history in the top echelons of the football league system, because I sent this photo to a WhatsApp group im in whilst i was at the ground and quizzed them to see if they knew what club it was.
My mate stumpy said Chicago Bulls.
So, let’s give them the credit they deserve.
They’ve been in the football league since 1962. Yep, they haven’t just popped up from nowhere. After yo-yoing up and down like a whores undercrackers between league systems, they reached the first division in 1986 and won the league cup the same year. I got asked what the league cup was the other day. Depends how old you are. Its either the Carling, Worthingtons, Carabao or Milk cup, again, depending on whether the sponsorship committee were tee total or not at the time.
They couldn’t play in the UEFA Cup the year they qualified for it though, as English teams were on a ban from the competition for 5 years after the 1985 Heysel disaster. As low as they must have felt after not being able to compete, its not as low as they felt the year later, especially in league terms, as they started a downward spiral for 18 years. Yep. Some people don’t even lose their virginity in that time. Im looking at you again Stumpy. In 2006 they were back in the conference.
They did win something though. The honour of in fact the first ever team to win a major domestic trophy to be relegated out of the football league. Awkward.
Tell you what though, if they have two things going for them, they nearly got back to the championship this year and their ground is much harder to break into than Wycombes.
A gorgeous stadium from the outside too.
The first thing you see when you approach the ground is the sporting fact that they now stream their games online. Flanked by the number for a taxi in case youve gone to the ground hoping to get in and need to get back by 3 to charge your laptop to watch it.
Its a lush front for a small ground eh.
Despite opening in 2001 though, which is either through the money they spent on the gorgeous glass front or just laziness, they are one of the stadiums which only have 3 sides.
Which I can only assume meant that when they were in the lower leagues there was a sh*t load of free balls on offer lying round the car park after a match, such was the standard of shooting.
Emblazoned with the Ox everywhere, their top goalscorer in history is none other than former Manchester United and Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson brother Graham Atkinson. Oh and Ron? Only the clubs record appearence holder. Every days a learning day here i tell you 🔥
Another famous name involved with the club? Well in 1982, yep just a few years before they should have been playing in Europe, they actually nearly went bust. Before Robert Maxwell, yep that media mogul, took over the club. Although he did want they to merge with a reading, change their name to Thames Valley Royals and play in Didcot. Which obviously with the fans went down about as well as calling your partner by your exes name during intercourse.
He threatened to shut the club down then but shut up when they gained promotion to the first division. As you would.
Other key names include former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson, who was their manager briefly in the late 80’s. He didn’t win anything. I can imagine though, after watching his demeanour on match of the day he’s about as enthusiastic in the changing room as Stephen Hawking would have been about attempting the triple jump.
I met him the day after watching Cardiff in the 2008 FA Cup final at Wembley, which he commentate on with the legendary John Motson. I said how much it was a shame we lost in the way we did. He smirked at me, leaned right into my face and said ‘shit happens’ then walked off laughing. Its only after I realised why he hates Cardiff so much. When legendary Cardiff figure Robin Friday kicked lumps out of him in one match at Ninian Park, Lawrenson cried to the ref and got Robin sent off. Said Robin then took the long walk down the tunnel to the dressing rooms, went into the away one, found Mark Lawrensons bag, took a dump, then went to the pub.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer man, eh Lawro?
Oxford, respect, you’ve actually got a lush ground and Oxford is a beautiful city too. Oh and cool buggy things pitchside also.
But next, it was off to Reading
Now, this is another stadium surrounded by amenities. Its quite the glorious ground they have here in terms of space. Theres a hotel AND the clubs training centre on site.
So to be honest, the players might as well just live at the ground. Especially as just behind all this is Reading gate retail park with a B&Q, a Pizza Hut for them to eat and they can even compliment their playboy lifestyles by kitting themselves out at T.K Maxx.
One of the stands has been named after Eamonn Dolan, with a huge and brilliant mosaic of him having been put up. The former club caretaker manager has a very poignant story when it comes to his career. A footballer who started his career with West Ham and represented Republic of Ireland at U-21 and youth level only went on to make 56 professional appearences after Cancer cut short his career in 1993.
Sadly, it was something that blighted his life as sadly, he succumbed to the illness aged just 48 in 2016. A sad story but a brilliant thing to do from Reading football club in his honour after joining them as academy manager in 2004. It really is brilliant that he is being immortalised in this way. RIP Eamonn.
A club that obviously cherish their own, further endorsed by a plaque to commemorate their youth academy players who made it big in the game, players such as Gylfi Siggurdson, Jamie Ashdown, Shane Long and Davies Henderson, with the dates they made their debuts for the club.
Plaques commemorating two of the football clubs former personelle feature outside. Club vice president Roy Tranter, a man who saved the club from, yep that man again, Robert Maxwell, sadly died a week after being diagnosed with, unfortunately again, cancer and former player and manager Maurice Evans, who actually made over 400 appearences for Reading and managed both teams i visited today, with Oxford also immortalising him with a lounge at the Kassam in his honour.
Furthermore, they remember the players who succumbed to WW1.
Look at you Reading, I’m actually impressed, you big softies.
A lush ground, steeped in personalised history, lovely to see. Plus, like I said, there’s a pizza hut round the corner so whats not to like.
Right then, these two done, lets move further south as tomorrow i hit Crawley and entertainment mecca Brighton, where the fun never ends.Until 9.59pmThank you for everything so far. You have all been incredible and so far raised over £7,000 for mental health research.
Thats the difference you are making.
So genuinely, from me, thank you.
And remember, it’s ok not to be ok.
Especially if you’re Mark Lawrenson and you’ve just got back to the changing room.