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By Stephen Dempsey
“All exits to Wembley Stadium,” stated the sterile voice over the tube sound-system; “You yellows!” bellowed back the yellow swarm that burst from the train… it could only mean one thing, the event which all football fans dream of: a play-off final.
And this wasn’t just any final, this was a match to decide who makes the big time…. and who falls back into the anonymity of the Blue Square. It’s in games like these that the 12th man, the crowds of yellow and blue, become so vital.
Didn’t the crowd know it. From the moment the stalls were opened, to the point where the special guest in the guise of the Kassam stadium announcer roused the 33,000 Oxford troops to the cry of “Wembley, Wembley”, the whole stadium knew they were in for something extraordinary, including the huddle of York supporters who were outnumbered nearly 4-1.
Even before the first whistle was blown, as the tones of ‘nessun dorma’ as sung by Martin Toal were picked up by the Oxford crowd, the tension was palpable, the atmosphere electric and the prize obvious for all to see. North v South, David v Goliath and future fortune v the prospect of despair; each voice summed up all the vital emotions of football that make this game so important to so many.
As the rain poured down, and the fireworks ushered the players onto this most famous of pitches, it was no longer 22 men battling for 90 minutes but 40,000; a showdown of epic proportions.
And the crowd didn’t disappoint; as Green stuck a sublime finish high into the right corner at the York end, an explosion amongst the U’s fans seemed to physically and mentally rock the York players and support; setting up a half that Oxford dominated.
The physically intimidating ‘beast’, Mark Creighton, was propelled by the calls of the yellows into each gutsy challenge while Constable’s every move was accompanied by anticipatory shouts as he fittingly took control of his beat in front of the York box; a performance summed up by his professional left foot finish for Oxford’s second.
The York contingent, defiant to the last, certainly gave it their best shot, which is more than can be said for some of the efforts coming from Brodie, Rankine and co. in the second half. It was not to be; where the fervour of the Oxford crowd turned every half chance into a key moment in the match, the northern party struggled to muster the excitement and urgency needed to get the ball over the line…even after Ryan Clarke did his best to make the game more interesting.
People will point to the masterly play of Adam Chapman and the counter-attacking pace of Alfie Potter as the key components in Oxford’s victory but to anyone in the crowd on that momentous day, it was clear that the difference between the two well-matched sides was found in the stands, not the sidelines.
Which begs the question why university support for this great club is so meagre. An excellent stadium, a team on the up, an already passionate fan base and inexpensive admissions should lead unquestionably to support from the local community. It is, in my opinion, high time for the Oxford student community to recognise this and start backing a vital part of this town.
The ivory towers and Rad Cam are wonderful, yes, but the lifeblood of this town should flow from something that all parts of this city can enjoy and that can be found in the Kassam most Saturdays.
To have Oxford United and the University of Oxford in complete ignorance of each other is a missed opportunity that both parties will regret for years to come if they do not take advantage of this pivotal moment in the club’s history.
Together we can put Oxford on the map for more than just books; we need passion and pride, not pens and paper.
The long road to Wembley
Oxford’s journey back to league two has been a tough one. Here are some stand-out moments:
Oxford Utd 2-0 Luton Town: Goals from Cornstable and Cook handed Oxford victory in this September clash of the titans and set the U’s well on their way.
Oxford Utd 1-0 Rushden & Diamonds: Oxford brushed off Rushden to reassert position in title race with an 85th minute goal from Adam Chapman.
Stevenage Borough 1- 0 Oxford Utd: Oxford’s title race came to an end in this loss at the end of March. Not that it stopped them from dominating at Wembley.