A hymn to intellectual beauty

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

3 December 2023

Last Christmas we had Hurst at our heart but at the end of the day he frittered it away. This year, to save us from tears, we've traded him for something that may be special. Maybe. Unlike the Kassam Stadium, the proof of the pudding is in the heating. The sea of Town fans you see are warm to you, Dave. And if we could see the sky it may look blue.

A foggy, freezing day in a three-cornered hat plonked in the farthest, most forgotten corner of an Oxford field. Soulless, fanless, empty and devoid of meaning and of life. What an utterly dispiriting existence this is, one that sucks the joy from football. Out of town, out of sight and someone was out of their mind to build this enervating blanderdome. Look at how this works ye mighty, and despair, a colossal wreck, boundless and bare.

Red Town lined up in the 4-2-3-1 formation as follows: Cart-Wright, Mullarkey, Maher, Rodgers, Glennon, Conteh, Hunt, Pyke, Clifton, Khan and Rose. The substitutes were Eastwood, Efete, Waterfall, Green, Holohan, Khouri, Ainley, Eisa and Wilson. If you're gonna play football you may as well play footballers. Conteh and Hunt, together again at last: the sweeper and the creeper. A bit like when Chas and Dave went on tour with Joe Brown. It's what the public wants, and we know eventually the public wants what the public gets. Yeah Dave, we get it.

Oxford. They play in yellow. They have players. They don't have many fans. We're in luck if their players have the same attitude as their supporter. Ooh, hang on, I can see another one, make that supporters.

1st half – Ode to the west stand
Town kicked off away from the void as the fog twirled through the car park and over the fence. Residents of Oxford' beware the vengeful ghosts of ancient mariners in the fog.

Tippy-tappy noodles and zippy-zappy triangles. Toby crossed and Rose stumbled over the ball at the near post, dislodging a couple of bulbs in the Christmas lights. Town slowly perambulated around in their own half, seeking to attract a butterfly, but butterflies don't fly in December. Yellows waited for a Redster to shin. Otis, dear Otis, you have feet of clay and shins of steel. They pounced, they flounced, the ball bounced wide.

Flickery and trickery and Cart-Wright picked up the pieces at a corner. Woah, there it goes, sailing towards the cinema, the ball wishing for some alternative source of entertainment.

The linesman beneath the Town fans failed to see what we could see. He also failed to understand elementary physics and basic ballistics. Maher sliced for a throw-in given as a corner, then a corner that should have been a goal kick, and boy, he really got on our wick. At one point I am sure he gave Khan out LBW.

Easing, pleasing, Town teasing the termites. Slick, quick passing and movement and Hunt's sweep edged off the outside of a yellow boot. Ah yes, the new corner routine, where Glennnon taps it short to Khan who underhits it to the near post. Everyone's a winner, David, that's no lie. It always fails to satisfy. Khan duly underhit and a big yellow head bonked it down their left. Murphy, 30 yards from his own goal, vaa-va-voomed past last man Conteh, swayed up the touchline, cut infield and into the penalty area. A low cross-wallop was batted aside by Cart-wright but straight down the middle where only McGuane lurked to tap into the emptied net.

Mmm, they can run quicker than our lot.

Sparring but there's something a little jarring about the passionless pinball. To me, to you, it's them again, then us again. Khan shin-slapped overly after piracy and intricacy by a gang of marauding Mariners. It's fast but no-one seems furious, it's a curious boiled egg of a game.

Home wingery lightly toasting our old chestnuts, especially on the left. Wiggling and a-waggling way out west and Harris tripped over his own feet at the near post after much merry Murphyness. And all the while Mills made Ringo mither and mutter at having to do the twist. Yeah Ringo, round and round and up and down you go again, twisting time is here.

I have one name to say to you. Are you listening? Are you listening? Conteh. What a magnificent mugger he is.

Town's rice krispieball needs milking. They snapped, crackled and occasionally popped the ball out wide. And what happened? Khan cut infield and bedrumbled through yellow socks. Moments. Almost. Even if the substance is the same, at least we have style.

We have the ball, they have the shots. A corner here, a corner there, a header wide, a slap and tickle high. It's all right Conteh's coming back. Here comes Kamil the sweepologist to sweep away your fears.

Far away across the fields the bell was tolling for thee Rodrigues. The petulant Portuguese punched the ball after felling Maher. A couple of minutes later Raging Reuben step-stamped Rodgers. A free kick to Town and…that's all. Shall we say eyebrows were raised and tuts were barely disguised. If you're gonna keep on messin', don't bring your business back a-here. Why don't you go home sneaky Rodrigues.

Murphy slashed high, a Mills slap-shot clutched and, on a tangent, they went from the opposite to the adjacent via the hypotenuse as the left-back galloped gaily into the mists of time. A tap inside, a wriggle and Sneaky Rodrigues came out of the cold and stepped inside. A flashing blade, a flying save. A tip-top tip over by Harvey.

We have a bit of Towning around, just so you know. Little Harry step-prodded at Beadle, Rose flicked widely wide at the near post after some bellows were puffed in and out.

Two minutes were added. Ooh, hang on, have I told you about the time Rose was given offside and Oxford took the free kick in our half? No? Well I have now. Now that's what we're up against. I'm going to ignore the egregious foul throws from Toby and the Gang. It was very foggy, perhaps the referee couldn't see. He didn’t see many things.

And Mills kippered Glennon once more for luck as no homester lurked as he fliggled across the face of goal. There we are.

We had fleeting moments, they were fleeter of foot. There we are, that's what it was.

2nd half – Music when soft voices die
Rodrigues was replaced by Bodin at half time, so you have gone home after all Sneaky Rodrigues.

More of the same but somehow less so. We have the ball, they have the shots, just less of 'em.

Murphy surged, Mills poked wide beyond the farthest post. A bit of a break, which was nice, but what end product? A corner. Town's new-style corners remind me of underpants in the 1970s. We had them, but they really were not good for you, it was all overheated yet sterile.

Fog, foggy, foggier. Can you feel your feet? The occasional attempt at chanting and bantering. We began to realise we'd driven three hours to freeze in a field watching a corporate self-improvement away-day workshop. Where's that flipchart?

Near the hour Khan and Pyke were replaced by Eisa and Wilson. The phenomena of eternal ephemera replicated. Tip-tap-tip-tap-snap! Hunt felled near the right corner of their penalty area. A splendiforous position for a shot. Red shorts pondered. The way forward is, of course, to faff about and fail to shoot or even stick it in the mixer.

We have the ball, they have the shots. Breaks, no great shakes. Low and left, low and right, Harvey's hands do the dishwashing. A half-cleared corner returned, Bodin nodded from nearby and oh I say Virginia! Cart-wright flung and flipped over. Or was it wide? There was so many.

We have the ball, we have a shot! Three pawns advanced up the Queen's side, but Eisa was boxed in by the touchline inside the Town half, surrounded by a rook, a knight and a bishop. Early season Eisa returned with a solid bold move with his easy action, wiggling through the custards, sauntering infield and espying movement afar. Wilson ran into their nether regions across the left-back and behind the monster truck and slapped straight at Beadle's midriff. The ball bounced out into the exact place and space they scored from. Alas no Townites were hurt in the making of this movie.

Someone blundered and Cart-wright rushed out to save some red blushes. You could feel Town breakin' and everybody shakin' their heads, but Harvey's staying alive.

Double, double, toil and trouble, perhaps the fog will save us? Oh dear, it's clearing up. We can even see the corner flags.

Maher messed about on the halfway line, dithering over a dink, hesitating over a hoik, disrobed by a yellow duvet. On they swarmed, rolling to Town's right, Brannigan surged and swayed around Mullarkey to dink and Bodin winked past Harvey at the near post. And to our left we saw the lights go on one by one in the car park as the homesters headed for their tea and a slice.

Last year is so long ago.

Sure, Town had pressure, they even got the ball into the box now and again. Endeavour and perseverance were on display. Yes, that's right, Ainley and Holohan came on for Conteh and Clifton. After some old-fashioned shin-balling Wilson snapped a shot through a thicket of yellowy from inside the D and Beadle spoondled the ball back towards the penalty spot. No yellow shirts moved, a lone red shirt appeared in the void. Rose tripped over a stray blade of grass.

They did things too, always breaking after pouncing upon wandering red minds. Goodrham surge down the middle and whacked from afar. Harvey's flying finger-tippery tipped over spectacularly. Is it over? No, there's more. Don't get out of your pram, there's four more minutes before we can form a traffic jam. Cart-Wright clutched Bodin's shimmer-stinger at the near post and at the very, very end Town pressure resulted in a free kick which Glennon artlessly wafted into the car park.

Can we go now?

Yes we can.

We duly applauded the players who applauded us. It has to be done, no matter what you feel inside. Oxford were just a bit faster, just a bit stronger, just a bit better all along. Town merely used it as a practice game, everyone went through the motions without really showing any emotions. It was all very antiseptic, very academic.

At times Town looked tasty, at others they looked like stale bread.

Let's hope practice makes perfect for next week.