Monday, 15 August 2011

Attemping to understand a Rivalry

The recent vandalism at my team Oxford United's home ground (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14521560) has made me think about football rivalries. At the level Oxford operate, it is the local rivalry that gets fans talking. For example, this Sunday, Oxford will play that team in Wiltshire mentioned in the link above. In the years that I have followed Oxford, I can only really remember one game against that particular team - an FA Cup game at the Kassam in 2002 - even then being 11 years old, I could barely understand this "massive" rivalry and the atmosphere that surrounded the game. Of course, I understood the geographical closeness of the two clubs but why this made that particular game so big and a life or death situation was beyond me. Now 9 years later, with Oxford's promotion to the Football league and the 'other lots' relegation, we find ourselves meeting once again. The anticipation in the Oxford camp has been building for months, every single player who joined the club during the summer has talked about the game on the 21st August, manager Chris Wilder and chairman Kelvin Thomas have mentioned it on a weekly basis and of course the fans have been cursing the team in the red from the other end of the A420 since their relegation was confirmed back in May.

 I have been an exiled Oxford fan all my life, I have never been in Oxford on a derby day, yet alone attended a match against 'the scum'. Perhaps this is why I struggle to see the massiveness of this game ahead of any other game in the league I thought.
  I started to look at other derbies in the English game , perhaps one of the most famous - Everton v Liverpool - would help me to find an understanding. Well 2 large clubs playing within the same city certainly divides a city, one half blue, the other red, this is clear. How does this explain the Oxford example - it doesn't. So I took another example; Notts County v Nottingham Forest, again 2 clubs in the same city. Many of the rivalries in this country are like this; Sheffield, Bristol, Birmingham, & Manchester all  have their big derbies featuring 2 clubs. So why do Oxford not have a rivalry with city neighbours Oxford City?
Other rivalries such as Liverpool v Manchester United and Sunderland v Newcastle United are similar to Oxford - 2 teams in a reasonably close local area.  Perhaps, rivalries come from the British thing of being proud of where you come from - a bit like the whole North v South banter.

  The amount of build up given to the Oxford game on Sunday on various fan sites has overtaken the fact we also play an important league game v Shrewsbury Town tomorrow night. Has the obsession with Sunday's game actually taken the passion away from the first 3 games of the season so far? At the end of the day, Oxford  have 44 other games in the Npower League Two this season and at the end of the season a win against the Wiltshire lot shouldn't mean anything if we have lost away at Burton and missed out on potential promotion - but it will, the fans will have the bragging rights and in some cases that seems to be the only thing they are worried about.

I hope Oxford do not lose on Sunday as the feeling that would bring to the United fans is not worth imagining. As I end this piece, I still find myself struggling to come to a complete understanding of the reasons for this pure hate of certain teams by each clubs football fans.
Perhaps those reading this will think of a decent reason of why, a rivalry means so much to a football club

* I have delibarately not mentioned the Glasgow derby as I am aware of various influences away from football on this rivalry that I do not fully understand *

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