Off field controversy dominated proceedings during this pre-season match after spectators were barred from coming into the Iffley Road site, forcing scores of Oxford Brookes fans to scale one of the perimeter fences and watch from there. The eleventh hour decision to play the match behind closed doors was made when a facebook group was discovered suggesting large numbers of Brookes fans would show up, something the Iffley Road authorities were not prepared to deal with. This meant that the game was somewhat robbed of what would surely have been an entertaining atmosphere – although credit must be given to the Brookes fans who watched the game from the fence making as much noise as they possibly could.
Seeing as the game was now being played entirely behind closed doors I had quite a task to get myself in so I could watch the match. I had to spend some time convincing the security guards on the way in that I was not some undercover Brookes student intent on wreaking havoc in the stands, but fortunately through a combination of smiling politely and refusing to go away I was eventually permitted to come in and watch. As a result I have little idea of what happened on the pitch inside the first twenty minutes, except that neither side scored.
The Blues were just in the ascendency for part of the first half I was able to watch. Adam Zagajewski was causing problems for the Brookes defence with his pace and trickery but his only real chance of the half was screwed high and wide of the goal. This was greeted by howls of derision from the gaggle of Brookes fans watching on from the fence – but given how far away they were from the action it is a wonder that they managed to see what was going on. Two headed chances for the Blues towards the end of the half from Adam Healy and then Leon Farr came close to breaking the deadlock, but the teams trudged off at half time with the score still nil nil.
Buoyed by their boisterous travelling support the Brookes team began the second half playing much better than they had ended the first, and after about ten minutes of sustained pressure deservedly took the lead. A loose ball on the edge of the Blues penalty area was rifled into the top corner leaving Blues keeper Dwayne Whylly no chance. Cue delirium amongst the massed ranks atop the fence. One Brookes fan took his celebrations a bit too far however, stripping completely naked and running on to the pitch. He was perhaps hoping for a security guard to come on and attempt to rugby tackle him – in reality everyone on the pitch gave him a look which seemed to say “what are you doing, you look like an idiot?”, and he sheepishly took his place back on the fence. Of further embarrassment to him was the fact that it was quite a cold autumnal day, if you know what I mean.
The Blues responded well to going a goal behind, bellowed forward by goalkeeper Whylly – who almost single-handedly made up for the lack of any Blues support in the stands with his constant shouting.
Zagajewski had the ball in the net with about ten minutes still to go but, to the delight of the men on the fence, it was ruled out for offside. Minutes later the same player curled a free kick onto the bar, and then Blues striker Healy placed a free shot inside the penalty area into the grateful hands of the Brookes keeper – it seemed clear it wasn’t going to be the Blues day. With only seconds left on the clock full back Tim Squires hit a shot from the edge of the box which was brilliantly tipped round the post, robbing the Blues of an equaliser they probably deserved and me of a potentially brilliant ‘Dreaming Squires’ headline.
As the whistle blew the Brookes players ran over to celebrate with their fans, whilst the Blues players trudged off dejectedly. It’s not an important game in the Blues’ calendar – one player told me as he came off that it was the second most important game of their season so far, and that they’d only played two.