It was Oxford at home in the League Cup.
The first game in the League Cup? Midweek? Against lower league opposition? You better believe I’d normally be washing my hair, but one of the entourage was an Oxford-supporting-Silhillian, so this wasn’t a meaningless cup game for our groups of mates.
The contest now had enough of an edge to alter our status from ‘couldn’t give a toss’ to ‘mildly interested’, and so we decided to attend.
I’d got back from work and found my new Blues shirt had arrived. It was a warm August evening, the sun was giving off a deep orange light and the soft breeze rustled through the trees; a faint smell of nearby barbeques permeated the mild air.
‘I’ll wear my Blues shirt’ I decided. Medium. I’m a medium in Nike football shirts, my England and France shirts are a great fit, so this shouldn’t be a problem. I ripped open the bag and pulled the shirt over my head.
Jamie Pollock in a boob-toob.
No way around it. Everything was hanging out. I couldn’t wear it now. I’d have to exchange it at the club shop for a large or, the alternative option was to be like one of those women who buy wedding dresses too small and go on a crash diet to try and fit into it, but this task wouldn’t just require a crash diet; I’d need to shrink a couple of inches to get below 6 foot too.
I whacked on another top and made my way to the train station. Immediately my phone buzzed with a call, it was my mate Chris:
“I’ll meet you guys in the ground, We’ve got people from our company’s French branch over in Birmingham all this week and I’m bringing Frederick along to his first ever football match tonight so I’m going to be a bit late.”
“You’re taking him to Blues/Oxford?! Don’t you think the French have suffered enough?” I replied.
“Naah, it’ll be great. He’ll have a fantastique time”.
“Ok…well…we’ll see you in the ground then.”
Frederick was going to hate this.
Here was a man used to the Louvre, used to sipping cappuccino near the Seine. A man dragged from the poetry clubs and jazz music of the artistic corners of Paris and forced to endure the spectacle of Jonathan Grounds slicing the ball out of play, in a half empty stadium, while the whiff of Balti pie farts molest his nose and speckles of spit rain upon the back of his neck.
Frederick would never go to the football again. Quelle tristesse.
I met the entourage outside the Blues shop.
“Where’s Matt [the Oxford fan]?” I inquired.
“Not coming now”.
Even the Oxford fan wasn’t bothered about turning up; we’d soon find out that this same apathy would be displayed by the Blues players too.
We had a short while to kill, so we went into the Blues shop. They’d actually done the place out since Adidas had become the kit manufacturer. No longer did it look like a bomb had gone off in TK Max, there was a seeming order to where the clothes were, and there wasn’t anything on the floor, and everything looked clean. Things were looking up.
I went over to the Blues shirts to peruse the selection. A youth in an all-black Adidas tracksuit approached me.
“Lookin’ for large?”
“Cheeky cow” I thought.
“All we gots is medium. Everyone’s lookin for large but they aren’t coming in for two weeks.”
Drat. I’ll have to come back in a couple weeks.
We took our seats in the ground, and the game commenced. Chris and Frederick shuffled in five minutes after kick off. Frederick was a short, bespectacled fellow with eyes like buttons, he seemed confused, as if he’d been frogmarched here against his will – which was probably the case.
Blues were marginally the better side in a slow, pedestrian game that saw a succession of people mis-controlling the ball; attackers shooting from distance only for the ball to sail out for throw-ins, midfielders over-hitting passes that whizzed under the recipient’s feet bringing about a football match that was turgid and dreadful in the extreme.
The defence saw Paul ‘Unsung Hero’ Robinson partner Morrison, and young prospect Cogley replace Spector at right back. Caddis was played on the right wing in an experiment to test his attacking prowess. The Teutonic duo of Kieftenbeld and Tesche comprised the middle of midfield, with Vicious Viv on the left, and Vaughan and Storer up top.
On paper this wasn’t a bad Blues side. But we were awful.
I’m a fan of Vicious Viv, as I’ll always favour pacey wingers who look to take the opposition on. They open up the game, take the team up the pitch at speed, win free-kicks, corners and penalties – but Viv looked out of match practice and extremely raw. His first touch saw the ball bounce three yards away, and he ran down more than a few blind alleys. If we do manage to bring in a winger before the transfer window shuts, I’d like to see Viv go out on a six month loan to somewhere like Coventry to get him up to scratch.
I’m also a strong Caddis fan and believe that his over-laps from the full-back position are crucial to our attack. He takes a player away from Cotterill, giving him time and space to pick out a cross, and he also has a great little move where he feigns to cross and cuts inside, running into the box unlocking the opposition’s defence, but in truth, bar a couple of decent forays into the Oxford penalty area in the second half, he looked out of position overall.
The game was stale and in between the empty blue seats were groups of depressed Blues fans staring wistfully into the distance, only ending their trances to scratch their heads to satisfy an itch . You could hear a pin drop. I looked over to Frederick, he was sitting and smiling uncomfortably, the same kind of smile you put on when you’re looking at photos of somebody else’s baby or holiday, feigning interest to maintain politeness.
Half Time. The fans that hadn’t been totally sapped of their enthusiasm booed and jeered.
Frederick had got a baguette, where from, nobody knows. They say Napoleon invented the baguette so French soldiers could carry it down their trousers, so there’s always that option.
The second half continued in the same manner. Slow, stale, tepid, nobody taking a risk on the ball, a lack of ideas, no creativity, only this time Oxford looked the marginally better side. Rowett had seen enough and decided to bring on the big guns, Maghoma, Donaldson and Gleeson were thrown into the farce, but in truth Blues only seemed to get worse.
Full time and the people in front of us decided they’d had their fill.
‘We can’t take another 30 minutes of this’.
It was so bad that it became really funny. Fans in the stand were becoming delirious, and chuckling manically to themselves every time Blues players mis-controlled possession or ran out of play trying to get a cross in, others were pointing to planes in the sky, kids were hitting each other over the heads with match day programmes.
I can’t accurately describe how bad the game was. It’s got to be a serious contender for the worst game ever, because it wasn’t just shit, it was 120 minutes of shit, so it beats any league game in the shitness stakes because had this been a normal Saturday the torture would have ended half an hour earlier.
And we didn’t even get the booby prize of a penalty shootout to take the edge off, because 30 seconds before the end a non-descript Oxford player rose like a goldfish in between Robinson and Morrison and nodded home to secure the victory for the Oxen.
The half empty ground emptied in seconds.
Chris and a mentally-scarred Frederick disappeared into the darkness of Small Heath.
Myself and a few members of the entourage made our way back to Bordesley station.
The second game of the new season and the second time we’d failed to score or even trouble the opposition keeper.
Blues look slow in their build-up play, the counter-attacking of Rowett’s early days seems a long time ago. Progressive full-backs have been replaced by centre halves. Our game plan now revolves around chipping the ball at Donaldson and failing to offer any support when he nods the ball down or controls it looking for a lay-off.
The signing of Che Adams will hopefully help, but it also suggests that Rowett blames the personnel for our offensive impotency instead of the system itself.
There’s work that needs doing, whether the change in personnel will provide a quick fix, or whether we need to rethink how we approach our home games moving forward will be an issue that is debated in the weeks to come.
All I know is that Frederick won’t be back any time soon to see what the answer is. He might even have to Irish up his cappuccino next time he’s down by the Seine to blot the memory out.