There’s a tweet that’s been bugging me ever since it was posted just after the transfer window closed and we’d failed to sign Tyrone Barnett. It basically said that the club should be applauded for being willing to spend money on players and also to be applauded for not being held to ransom by a player’s wage demands.
Now, in reality, it seems that the problem with the Barnett deal was between the player and his agent, but it seems that this one Oxford fan was wholly satisfied with the failure of the bid. In fact, he viewed it as some kind of success.
This is one of the themes of this season so far; it has been a terrible, terrible start - disastrous form and we're still three or four players short of a competitive squad. We are the second worst team in the entire football league and by next Saturday afternoon, it is conceivable that we will be the worst. And yet, not only are Oxford fans apparently satisfied by our parlous state and optimistic about our future, they are prepared to find ‘evidence’ from even the most incongruous sources to prove that fact. In addition, there are others re-writing our recent history; claiming that this is better than life under Chris Wilder (currently 7th with Northampton).
Now, I’m not going to bang on about winning at Wembley or the three wins over Swindon, I’m not going to talk about the nurturing of James Constable into not only a genuine goalscorer but a modern day club icon and talisman. I’m not going to talk about Peter Leven’s goal against Port Vale, or the semi-final play-offs against Rushden or Jamie Cook goal against Luton.
I’m not going to talk about any of those things, I’m not going to talk about half a decade which we will look back on as a golden age. I’m not even going to talk about the mean-spiritedness of that revisionism. Instead, I’m going to ask a simple question; are football fans just a bunch of dumb asses?
I sometimes see spats on Twitter between fans - obviously in our case it’s usually with Swindon fans. Insults are traded; but, I do often wonder if anyone is genuinely serious about this. I mean, does anyone genuinely believe that all Swindon fans are scumbags or that arguing over who is best will actually ever be resolved?
Do those who one week, after a defeat, call for the kneecapping of the manager and then the next, after a win, claim him to be a genius, recognise the idiocy of their inconsistency?
I enjoy the rivalry, I enjoy the pantomime, even when it’s vicious and foul mouthed, but I also know it’s fiction. It requires a suspension of belief in order for it to work. I had assumed others see it as well, but perhaps they don’t, perhaps they genuinely feel it is real. The problem is that we’re all so busy playing along, and we’re too afraid to ask anyone if they genuinely believe it in case they do and you’re exposed as being one of the uncommitted.
But, you have to be a simpleton to genuinely confuse the fiction of football rivalry and the reality of the reductivism of it all. I don’t know how many people do fall for it, but some clearly do.
Rivalries are probably the least of our worries right now, we seem to be plumbing new depths of idiocy when it comes to our current form and predicament. I wholly get the idea of going to a game regardless of your form because that’s kind of the point. But, the acceptance of our current state completely baffles me. We have scratched two draws in six, and yet, that is deemed to be acceptable. Apparently we’ll be rewarded for sticking to higher principles of playing attractive football, but with what? A win? Avoiding relegation? Mid-table safety? Do people genuinely believe that our form or even our play indicate that we’ll match or improve on last year? When was a home draw with Dagenham, as entertaining as that might have been, considered the height of any club’s, let alone our, ambition?
I’m assuming that we all secretly know that our form this season has been catastrophic, and that should it continue in this vein then that could do irreversible damage to the club. The casual observer who makes the real difference between our future success and failure - because they attend when we succeed and don't when we fail - are simply not fooled by the idea that we are, in fact, succeeding. I’m hoping we know this and we’re all putting on a brave face. But what I’m thinking is that we’re all so dumb that this is genuine acceptance, or genuine belief, that some magical spirit is about to step in and fly us to the stars.
Suspending reality is at the heart of any entertainment, you have to give yourself over to the format whether that be film or theatre or sport - which is basically theatre without a script. But, if you suspend your reality completely, then there is always someone ready to exploit that. Football rivalries get hijacked by the politicised far right, for example. My fear is that we have handed ourself wholly over to rhetoric and we’ve ignored the reality of our situation. There is a very real possibility that by the time we wake up to that it will be too late.
Perhaps there is a commitment to entertaining football under the new regime, and perhaps there’s more money to invest in the club. Perhaps the stadium issue is moving forward at pace. But, if we wholly believe those promises and passively hand ourselves over the new regime - without an ounce of scepticism or pressure - then we are truly as dumb as we look. They should be buying our trust and respect with their performances, currently, they’ve built no capital in that respect and yet a draw at home to Dagenham or away to Southend is considered to be a major success and somehow proof that this is an improvement on the previous regime.