Swapping halfway hall for a halftime pie: football as a means of escape

There was welcome respite from university to be found at the Kassam stadium, as the local side faced off against Bury

The Oxford bubble is not something to which I had ever given a great deal of thought. This lack of awareness was probably symptomatic of my confinement within said bubble, but that only made my eventual realisation all the more disturbing. You’re probably wondering why this has anything to do with sport, but bear with me. I didn’t think it would either.

My first epiphany was that being in the bubble invariably compromised my involvement with football. As a football enthusiast I have always endeavoured to keep up an eye on the scores, something my early struggles to cope with my hectic timetable had not re-ally allowed for. Checking how my team were doing on a Saturday afternoon had become a matter of procrastination rather than purpose, and this was all too often the closest I came to watching the games themselves.

My friends from home chastised me for failing to watch derbies, title deciders and the like, and I had to agree with them. For the first time in years I could no longer recall the results of previous games with consummate ease. Had all my past devotion really been so hollow?

I called this my first epiphany, and the concern that it raised led me to have a second. This occurred last Saturday, when I realised how much football really did mean to me. Situated not far outside the ring road, the Kassam Stadium, home of Oxford United FC, is out-side the Oxford bubble in more ways than one.

With a capacity of 12,500, the Kassam is a humble home for any sports team, but it still dominates the spire-free skyline. In and around the ground, there is not a gown in sight. Start talking about collections, bops or sub-fusc and you might as well be speaking in a foreign language (in the latter case you of course would be).

There to celebrate a friend’s birthday, we disembarked the bus from the city centre and headed through the turnstiles to the concourse, and then to our seats. I had expected to enjoy the day no matter what.

As it turned out, I did very much escape the familiar, but not quite in the way I had expected. Although well over 100 miles away from any ground I had previously called home, there was something fundamentally homely and reassuring about the atmosphere at the Kassam, a familiarity that made me all the more amenable to it.

Some of my less football-orientated friends made fun as I punctuated my frustrated murmurings about Oxford’s midfield with hollers for their right-back to show a little more attacking ambition, but it was better than stressing over an essay. I even begun referring to Oxford United as ‘we’ by the second-half; the emotional pull of supporting a team was stronger than I had thought possible.

My continuing emotional involvement with football had been confirmed beyond doubt, perhaps even despite myself. The 2-1 home loss to the bottom side in the league left a bitter taste, especially after a chance to equalise was missed in the dying moments. Yet I was glad to have felt emotionally invested in something which is in equal parts utterly essential and completely inconsequential: a game of football.

So, football still meant a great deal to me. It has helped me to overcome the Oxford bubble, and this is a testament to the positive power of sport. It provides an outlet, respite from the concerns of everyday life that is vital in a high-intensity environment of Oxford. Come on you Yellows!