Adventures in Football #61: Kassam Stadium (Oxford United FC)
August 9, 2022
OXFORD UTD vs. SWANSEA CITY (Carabao Cup)
What a weird history Oxford United has. When I was a kid, Oxford were a division one team. They made it there in 1986 and won this very competition in the same year. This was on the back of back-to-back promotions. Sadly, this was after Liverpool fans ruined European football for everyone else and Oxford never had the chance to play in the UEFA Cup. They got relegated back in 1988 and it’s not been a pretty sight ever since.
Relegations followed in 1999, 2001 and 2006 sending them down into the National League. They came back up via the playoffs in 2010 and returned to their current level, League 1, in 2016. They’ve finished comfortably in the top half ever since and is a return to glory for Oxford on the cards this season? It’s a good test of their mettle against Championship side Swansea.
Oxford, or Headington as they used to be called, moved around a lot before playing at the Manor Ground from 1925 until 2001, when the out-of-town replacement ground was constructed. The Manor Ground wasn’t able to be converted to all-seater spectating in order to fulfil the requirements of the Taylor Report. I’m a little sad I didn’t get to go to the Manor Ground. It was a proper old stadium, albeit in a state of disrepair when it was bulldozed. They built a hospital on the site and the new stadium was built even further from the community it serves.
The new Kassam Stadium is four miles from the train station and on a retail park with a Vue cinema, Holiday Inn and a Hollywood Bowl. Seeing as there’s nothing anywhere near the ground we headed to Banbury before the match, to have a stroll around the market town. The police in Banbury patrol on horseback, which creates a twofold problem for the local bobbies. 1. the streets are covered in horseshit. 2. kids keep trying to get selfies with them. We’re sat in the Reine Deer Inn enjoying a pint of mild when the cops traipse past the front door. “Going the wrong way on the one way system” moans a punter at the bar.
We do the Ellis Platten charity shop search for old football shirts, and I did find a, very small, Lukaku Man Utd from when they had Chevrolet as a sponsor. It was £20. Maria baulked at the price, thinking stuff in a charity shop would be cheap. Cost of living crisis continues. Maria decided she wanted to go exploring in the, much bigger, Oxford so we left sunny Banbury and headed to the Westgate shopping centre, where we had dinner. I’ve never had Vietnamese food so we went into Pho (it’s pronounced “fuh”, I feel more educated already). The signature Pho dish is soup with meat in it, which costs about £12. I had a curry, which was creamy and rich and had peanuts crushed up on top.
After having consumed our grub we took a walk and found another pub; the White House, which is a Tap Social joint. Had a lovely pint of stout in there (no time for the six pub crawling business today) and we took in the view from Folly Bridge on the way back, admiring the river Thames in its natural habitat before it hits London and gets all wide and polluted.
Yes, she is wearing a Real Madrid shirt. She asked me if it was ok and I figured Oxford’s away shirt is white. Maybe no one would notice…forgetting they were playing Swansea…who play in white. Some weird local smoking a roll up kept giving her weird looks and said something to me, twice, that I couldn’t make out. I think he was a mumbling simpleton. Probably goes around staring at students all year long and with them ‘out of season’ he’s got nobody to be weird around.
Having walked back to the car in the boiling heat, I started hoping our seats were in the shade tonight. Oxford have decided that it’s easier to just stick a big football on signs rather than write “Kassam Stadium” as football clubs change sponsors on these things all the time. We’ll just give them a ball to follow. Am I now the simpleton? The great minds of Oxford, home of the world’s most famous academic institutions, have deemed me not capable of reading and only following a ball. I mean, they’ve nailed football fans there to be fair. This route is also the one good Ol’ JR takes when he’s in town so they’ve given him a signpost too bah gawd.
Welcome to Oxford Leisure Park! Home of the Vue Cinema, Hollywood Bowl, Frankie & Benny’s….and somewhere down the bottom there…. Oxford United football club! An afterthought on their own retail park. Marvellous. Only featuring slightly above the chippy. The part of Oxford I’ve been dreading is the car park. It’s deserved too. The car park isn’t well organised. Normally at club’s you’ve got people telling you where to go. This was a bloody free-for-all for people driving around full rows of parked cars trying to find a spot. We ended up parked quite close to the exit with Maria attempting to park on the end of a row that would have literally blocked in half the crowd at first. One of the benefits of having a Toyota Aygo is we parked in a space that wasn’t actually a space. Another benefit is that the parking here is it’s free, hence the lack of organisation. Nobody cares how many cars are in there because it doesn’t effect the bottom line.
This is the view from the car park. As you can see, the one end of the Kassam is completely open so you can see into the ground from the car park and, vice versa, you can see all of the car park from the Kassam. So, you can keep an eye on your car during the game. The left side there is the away “end” and we passed a fair few Swansea fans on the way in. We turned up at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm kick off, which was probably leaving it a bit late. On our way in the burger van had a massive queue.
This is where we’ll be sitting today. If you look up from the 1986 League Cup win you see a guy in a cream shirt. I was sat next to him. I like the trophies being advertised around the stand. I’ve seen it at bigger stadiums but it’s a nice reminder than this team did actually win the league cup once and it wasn’t even that long ago.
I’m guessing this burger joint is better than the one indoors because this had a whopping great big queue. It’s clearly Oxford cow approved as the badge looks down on it with maternal pride.
This might be the first time I’ve ever walked into a ground and gone straight to the right turnstile. First time ever. There was a bit of a delay at the turnstile as one of the scanners wasn’t working. There’s something endearing about Oxford United. It’s all bright and shiny from the outside but the closer you get, the more little flaws come through. Flaws are what make life interesting. I’m glad we weren’t running too late though! Just in front of us here is the conference and events centre. Like any major ground nowadays it can’t be just one thing, it has to get it’s fingers in as many pies as possible.
In we go and into the stairwells. Modern stadia have this thing about stairwells and hiding the mechanics of the building. Leaving you with the kind of stairwells that could be in any massive building. Is it a stadium? Or a hospital? Or a car park? I like the club colours on the rails and floor edging here.
We made it! We’re directly opposite the Swansea fans. That big yellow banner marks the demilitarised zone between fans. Off to the left is the car park we’re parked in. There’s a lot of replica shirts in the crowd. I was never quite sure about Oxford as a footballing entity and that’s an ongoing thing I had during this game. Do they really care about football in Oxford?
Off to our right is the sun-soaked ultra end. It looks very warm there and I’m quite happy in the shade of my beloved South Stand. The stands are uncreatively named. The away stand is the Planet IT stand. The other two stands are named for their geographical location. Could have called it the Grenoble Stand after the street it’s on? The East Stand could have been the Fry’s Hill End as it backs onto Fry’s Hill Park? Or name it after a famous player like Ron Atkinson or John Aldridge? How about Joey Beauchamp?
The main debate to be had about the Kassam is the car park end. Does it look weird not having a stand there? Yeah, a bit. Does the ground need that extra capacity? No, not really. There were 4,373 at the game I attended. The ground has capacity for 12,500. Their average attendance last season was 8,400. Unless Oxford return to a higher level (like the Premier League) it’s unlikely they’ll need to build a fourth side. Plus, the car parking space is a huge bonus as without it…where do you park? How do you even get there without that car park?
The game kicks off and before Oxford know what’s happening it’s 2-0 Swansea. The goalkeeper, one Edward McGinty, committed a bizarre handball where he completely misjudged a through ball and handled it outside the area. The resultant free kick ended up in the net and McGinty was on his way to being the day’s villain. Jay Fulton the scorer of a decent effort where two players dummied the ball leaving the keeper on the wrong side of his goal. Sloppy defending left Oxford exposed and Liam Cullen fired in a second. Swansea could have scored more as McGinty made another suicidal trek out of his box and contested not one but two headers towards the half-way line.
The Swansea fans were the more lively of the two, chanting and singing for the bulk of the first half while the Oxford lads moaned about the game. I wasn’t too thrilled to hear the Swansea lads chanting “gyppo” at Jodi Jones. Otherwise, they were fairly loud and well behaved. Oxford’s fans, like the players, dozed through the first half. Oxford had chances but just didn’t come close to converting them and the boss can’t have been pleased as he made two half-time substitutions.
At the hour mark, and with the sun setting over the car park, Oxford began to improve. Could it be a coincidence this happened right after Maria accidentally launched one of her hair grips over the row in front in a moment that almost woke up the surrounding fans? Or maybe because Swansea had unleashed their secret weapon; former Liverpool and Stoke midfield maestro Joe Allen, the Welsh Messi, and had lulled themselves into a false sense of security? However the footballing gods reached their decision to allow Oxford back into the game it was Alex Rodriguez (Gorrin, not A-Rod) who caused the dream to become reality. Pressing the keeper he luckily deflected Steven Benda’s kick into his own net. 1-2, game on.
We were debating leaving early to beat the rush but with the game tight and tense, there was no way we could do so. We were rewarded for our patience after Swansea’s defending turned into a comical mess. A player tripped during a goal mouth scramble and a free kick right on the edge of the box was Oxford’s salvation. The resultant strike was straight into the wall but deflected into the opposite side of the goal. Like the equaliser there were elements of luck but Oxford had earned it.
Penalties then, as the Carabao doesn’t have extra time. Everything was hunky dory until Swansea’s fourth spot kick. A strange silence fell over the ground and a rogue dandelion seed floated across in front of my face. I watched as it moved across the heads of Oxford fans, focused on the goal, and just as it dipped out of sight Matthew Sorinola’s penalty was saved by McGinty. The villain had become the hero. Cameron Brannagan smashed home his spot kick and Swansea were off to South Wales with their tails between their legs. A miserable 2h35m car journey where they could reflect on having pissed away a two goal advantage.
Oxford’s fans had cheered up in the second half and, given something to actually cheer for, had shown the passion for the game, which I wasn’t sure existed in this corner of the world. There was no doubting after the penalty shootout that Oxford fans do have that love of the sport. They’re not just here to admire the beautiful game but to yell and cheer just like everyone else. Even if it took a dramatic comeback to roust them from their summer slumber.
All that’s left of Oxford’s Kassam Stadium is to give it a ranking in this year’s table so let’s do that!
Swansea gave it what for and Oxford eventually woke up but for most of the game there was polite chatter. **½
£15 and they were good seats. The view was great. I had a peek at bar prices and a 500ml of Carlsberg was £4.20. That’s not outrageous but it’s also out of a bottle. ***
We were treated to a cracking game with high drama. Some of the passing was wonky at times, from both teams, but it contributed to the overall story of the match. The hot start for the visiting team, the comeback, the last gasp goal. I had a blast. ****
EASE OF ACCESS
At least the parking is free. I’ll give them that. The lack of parking opportunities near the ground means you pretty much have to park at the ground. Public transportation is out of the question. The train station is four fucking miles away. *½
The car park end is novel and it didn’t effect the game at all. There was decent leg room in the seat and most people don’t stand when you walk past them, which is bizarre. I liked the little bits of history on the trim of the stands but there’s no escaping that the Kassam is part of the big leisure complex. It’s pretty much the prime example of ‘out of town’ stadia (well, or Coventry), which are a blight on the game. ***
OVERALL: 14 points
The game being excellent really helped with the scoring because there are some pretty major issues with the Kassam. It’s too far from the city centre for one. There’s no public transport links for two. Especially on a night game. The congestion getting in and out of the car parks was not fun. We were very lucky to be parked near the exit. It’s one of those where I liked the ground, but I don’t like where it is. Despite this I walked away from the Kassam with a broad smile on my face, having witnessed a fantastic comeback win over a higher division side. It was a great night at the football.