Tuesday's defeat to Southend in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy saw the end of a surprisngly glorious run in a particularly inglorious competition. Where one thing ends, another starts as Tyrone Marsh marked his much anticipated debut with a goal and a pretty good shift. The start of something beautiful? Perhaps.
When I was growing up, based on very limited information available to me, I assumed that certain things were given. I assumed that all teams were on a trajectory that would eventually lead them to glory in a Wembley final. I had three reference points for this; I supported Ipswich Town when Bobby Robson took them to the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, I supported Oxford United as Jim Smith took them to the top flight before handing the reigns to Maurice Evans and onto Wembley, and I read about Roy Race and Melchester Rovers, and their relentless pursuit of glory.
I also believed that every team had a star striker; Roy Race, Paul Mariner, John Aldridge, Dean Saunders. And I believed that every team had a homegrown hero.
First, there was Andy Thomas and Kevin Brock, then Joey Beauchamp, Chris Allen, Paul Powell, Chris Hackett, Sam Ricketts, Dean Whitehead; a procession of homegrown success stories spanning a couple of decades. But there was a barely perceptible trend; whilst not wholly linear, each batch of homegrown stars was slightly less able than the previous set. For every Joey Beauchamp, there was an increasing number of Mark Druce's. As you get older, there's the horrible moment you begin to realise that the conveyor belt of homegrown success is beginning to pump out a load of poop.
You begin to realise, these players are like fattening cattle, they're really only being prepared for sale. But in a sense, that was OK because selling on players you've seen grow up has its own satisfaction. Especially when they're being fattened at somewhere like Oxford, because its not so galling to see them disappear off to the top flight. Slowly, though, they're not being picked up by top flight teams, but by teams at the same level as you, then teams lower than you, then local park teams.
There were people like Simon Weatherstone, who scored a hat-trick in the reserves against Arsenal, and Simon Marsh whose solid performances lead him to England Under-21 status and pretty much anyone Mike Ford decided to play when he was caretaker manager. As we entered the Conference, there were people like James Clarke and Alex Fisher. And Aaron Woodley, who for at least one Radio Oxford preview show was being rushed into first team action in order to boost his transfer price.
We love home grown stars; they are us. Fitter, faster, better looking, more skilful versions of ourselves. But most importantly, they live near us. OK, so they might actually be the sort of people in low cut t-shirts, earrings, Ugg boots and sculptured hair that you want to kick in the bollocks. But when they've been been defiled of all this frippery and put into a yellow shirt, they look like an innocent new born. We want them to succeed like they're our children.
We like to believe their strengths are infinite, their weaknesses don’t exist. In recent weeks there has been a big call for Tyrone Marsh to start. Most people had never seen him play at all, and only the 118 that went to Plymouth in the JPT had seen him in the first team. But some simply knew he was the saviour.
The consensus seems to be that Wilder needed to play Marsh; ignoring that our frailties were principally at the back.
Statistically speaking, if you label enough people the saviour, one should turn out to be exactly that. There was palpable excitement that he was picked to start against Southend. Every ball placed in front of him was greeted with near hysteria; “GO ON TY”.
Whether Marsh turns out to be a Beauchamp or a Mark Druce time will tell. But he didn’t look out of his depth, in fact he physcially he looked the part and got himself into good positions, had a decent number of chances and scored a good goal.
It was a refreshing debut in a refreshing game; the crowd was surprisingly sparse; the JPT isn't exactly the most exciting competition, but a semi-final of any competition which ends up at Wembley has got to be worth a punt. We can all debate endlessly the importance of the JPT, but this season has been great. Those who didn't come missed perhaps the best game we've had at the Kassam since Swindon in the, um, JPT.