Sticky junior turns out for two teams now; he’s as fit as a fiddle. He’s entering the dark world of puberty. I love it when he takes his angry pills before a game of football. He’s as placid as they come, but has a personality change before entering the field of play. It gives him an edge to his game. His first yellow card is literally just around the corner. I’m looking forward to it because he doesn’t know it yet, that it will be coming out of his pocket money.
I’ve two games in two days at the weekend but haven’t plucked up the courage to speak to Mrs P about this impending matter. I fly in the front door from work and straight out the back door and cut all the lawns. I’m back in the house an hour later cleaning all the windows. I’m a modern day Mrs Doubtfire. The good lady has a look of disbelief on her face. It’s an unexpected, jaw-dropping moment for Mrs P.
I still summon up the energy to go out scouting for ‘The Pies’ on the same evening. I’m at the beautiful setting of Wollaton Park watching a small-sided game. There’s a central midfielder on show with an incredible engine. He’s up and down the pitch like Roadrunner. He wins countless headers and second balls. He’s finally substituted and complains of a migraine. I’m not surprised. But he’ll do for Sticky. I book him in for his six week trial.
We’ve gone corporate tonight. I normally contact Robbo and stand on the popular side at the Pirelli Stadium. I’ve called in a favour and tonight we will be seated.
White Van Man has been on the road since 4am; I volunteer to pilot, he accepts my gesture. I pick up the big man at 6.15pm; he looks totally drained and needs rations.
They call me ‘Driving With Miss Daisy’, it’s because I’m an unhurried driver. We’re still in Burton in thirty five minutes. We park a fifteen minute stroll away from the ground. I’m parked on the wrong side of the road facing oncoming traffic.
Oxford is in the south of the Midlands and has a population of over 150,000. It lies on the rivers of the Thames and Cherwell. It has the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
It is the home of Inspector Morse and his dim-witted sidekick Lewis. Famous folk from the area include: Patrick Mower, Hugh Laurie, Oliver actor Mark Lester, former Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa midfielder Garry ‘Nosey’ Parker and Professor Stephen Hawking.
Notable former managers of the U’s include: Jim ‘Bald Eagle’ Smith, Match of the Day pundit Mark Lawrenson, spitting victim, the scowling Brian Horton and Mark Wright. Former Czechoslovakian Olympic sailing champion and deep sea diver Robert Maxwell once owned the club in their halcyon days.
The city of Oxford is twinned with Bonn in Germany and Grenoble in France. The Morris Motor Car Company mass produced vehicles before the demise of British Leyland.
The first-ever sub four minute mile run was recorded by Roger Bannister at Oxford University’s Iffey Road track. I once saw Binchy, a colleague at work, eat a very hot meat stir fry, at the Three Crowns Thai restaurant in Ruddington, Nottingham, in less than four minutes – this is called ‘Doing the Roger Bannister.’
Oxford were formed in 1893 as an amateur club called Headington United. It was only in 1960 that they had their named changed to Oxford United.
They were elected to the Football League in 1962 at the expense of Accrington Stanley, who folded.
In 1986 they defeated Queens Park Rangers in the Milk Cup final 3-0 at Wembley Stadium, with goals from Trevor Hebberd, Ray Houghton and Jeremy Charles in front of over 90,000 people.
This is their third season in the Conference. Former Halifax manager Chris Wilder is at the helm. He performed a miracle on a shoestring at The Shay. He’s started like a train at Oxford; they’ve had one league defeat in the last twenty games.
Burton is famous for its beer, Bovril and car manufacturing. They have seen an eighteen point lead eaten away by Cambridge United. They have been beaten six times in their last twelve outings. I tell White Van Man that the form book suggests an away victory. He’s more concerned about his empty stomach.
We pick up tickets in reception. We walk up the stairs, down the corridor and end up in some plush, swanky bar. I have a Guinness and White Van Man decides on a blackcurrant and soda. There are a few Conference and Football League managers swanning around the room.
Everyone seems in celebratory mood. There’s a gang of mates in Hawaiian shirts, with coloured garlands hanging from their necks. One unfortunate Brewers’ fan has a home shirt on, with a double-barrelled surname of it. It’s not quite as bad as Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, but I bet it still cost a few bob.
White Van Man swipes a couple of team sheets from off the bar. Leading scorer Greg Pearson is still suspended and there’s no sign of veteran ‘keeper Kevin Poole. Oxford appear to have all the big guns on show.
Poor old White Van Man is starving; there’s not a pork pie or Puuka pie in sight; not even a prawn sandwich. I’m seriously worried he’ll pass out.
I don’t bother buying a programme as it’s normally stuffed full of adverts. We do buy some 50/50 tickets though to ease the guilt.
As we take our seats, on the second row from the front, they are just turning off the water sprays. It’s rained buckets in these parts over the last few days. But Burton like to zip the ball all over the park.
Six thousand fans are packed into the Pirelli Stadium tonight; it is said that some are locked out. The Burton PA man keeps it simple and treats us to a bit of Ska, Pigbag, Coldplay and The Script.
The atmosphere is electric; both sets of fans are in fine fettle. There’s an incredible turnout from Oxford for a night game on a working day.
Oxford set about Burton from the off and intend to give them little time on the ball. They have packed the midfield. The U’s top marksman James Constable will plough a lone furrow up field.
Oxford have a physical edge to their game, and a snap in the tackle. Their game-plan is stop Burton getting on the ball. The referee hasn’t the inclination to play advantage; there’s endless occasions when he could have and should have. He doesn’t dish out punishment for persistent foul play of which one or two Oxford players are guilty.
Ironically it’s a Brewers’ player who finds his way into the referee’s notebook. Arron Webster body-checks the impressive Oxford on-loan winger Lewis Haldane.
Club stalwart Darren Stride is playing in an unaccustomed role as centre forward; well it’s the first time Sticky’s seen him play there. He’s putting himself about and plays in Keith Gilroy who fires a shot straight at Oxford ‘keeper Billy Turley.
It’s deadlock at the break; there’s just too much at stake. I’ve the weakest bladder in Nottinghamshire and decide to hunt down the nearest toilet. I end up behind the goal where there’s a queue of about 200 folk in the same predicament. The toilet only has five urinals.
Mrs P texts in at 9pm, to take the piss out of me because it’s 0-0. She’s stumbled upon Setanta Sports on the new Virgin Media package she recently shelled out on.
Oxford come out and play in the second period. The talented Constable and central defender Wilmott both go close. There’s a real ebb and flow to the game, as the pace hots up. Goodfellow forces another smart save from Turley. The ball’s played back in by Stride for Morris to somehow scuff his shot wide of the post, from six yards out.
Oxford go 4-3-3, they have to get maximum points this evening; the game opens up even more for the Brewers.
Tony James gives an unnecessary free-kick away, after a foul on Constable. Nineteen year old Northern Irish full back Adam Chapman, on loan from Sheffield United, curls a delicious, whipped effort, over the wall into the left hand top corner of the goal. Not one Oxford player can catch him on his celebratory run. The U’s fans up the noise a notch.
But Burton are a brave lot; they throw the kitchen sink at the U’s. Substitute Shaun Harrod races through on goal, Wilmott is last man and takes him out; it’s a straight red.
White Van Man’s getting itchy feet; his stomach is rumbling incessantly. We’ve time to see a flurry of blocks and saves from man of the match Turley before exiting the Pirelli Stadium in the 94th minute. It’s not the Brewers night, and now they really will be shaking in their boots for the visit to Plainmoor next Sunday.