Thursday, 13 February 2014

Out of the Wilderness.

I know this is a little late but I want to get a few things about the last few months at the club off of my chest. As some of you may have noticed from various posts over the last year or so, I was no fan of Chris Wilder, his negative tactics, terrible loan signings, bizarre team selections, inability to deal with the home form or his general shirtiness towards anyone daring to question any of the above. However I didn’t always feel like this and I stood with the 32,999 other fans on that unforgettable day at Wembley in 2010 singing his praises, I cheered along with the rest of you when he asked us if we ‘thought we’d chucked it’ at the victory parade a couple of days later, I even used to refer to him as Sir Chris for a good while afterwards. But the love and respect that we all had for this man turned sour for so many of us and divided the fans in a way no other manager has done and it was this division that caused me to dislike him above anything else. I’m sure you’ve read plenty of articles, blogs, comments about Wilder’s downside and also his plus points, so I want to look at a different aspect of his time here – the fans.

We all raised an eyebrow when we heard Wilder’s name announced as our new manager back in December 2008 but just a year and a half later we saw this unlikely hero leading us out at Wembley and back in to the football league. If he’d walked back to Oxford on the Thames that night none of us would have been surprised, such was the regard we held him in. But football moves very quickly and a couple of years later, the cracks were showing and although we were never in any danger of dropping back into the non league it soon became obvious to many of us that Wilder didn’t have the credentials to take us that step further. Yet there was a large section of the fans who failed to see this, in fact they failed to see any further than Wembley at all. It was Wilder himself who had told us that ‘history meant nothing’ yet here was a man who was being supported mostly due to his past glories at the club and therefore being contradicted by his blinded fans.

Now of course everybody is perfectly entitled to an opinion and if people genuinely liked the bloke or believed he was the man to take us forward then I’m not going to slag them off for that view, but I’m a firm believer of basing my opinions around facts and the fact is over the last two or three years, our home form has been poor. Really poor. Wilder had been unable to turn that around in previous seasons and appeared to be once again, hindering our progress with this stumbling block and the thought of a home game was as exciting as the promise of an episode of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. We’ve played a style of football so boring and negative that my friends and I would often turn to making up football puns to relieve the boredom and make the long drag between 3.00 and 4.45 more bearable. We were losing and drawing against teams varying from ordinary to crap due to our lack of ability to break teams down and fans were getting tired of it and starting to stay away. But there was a large section of the fans who refused to let Wilder take any of the blame whatsoever, preferring to explore every other avenue to find someone or something to point the finger of blame at. The apparent gypsy curse was once again dragged out, the fact that we have an all seater stadium meant there was no atmosphere, the fans negativity, the players, the chairman, the tea lady (probably) basically anyone or anything except the man who was actually responsible for the on field matters at the club.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t keen on Wilder, but I’ve always tried to argue my point fairly and based on what I see happening in front of me, whereas many of the Wilder fans or Chrisciples (© @JoffThompson – why not follow him on Twitter) seem to be basing theirs on blind faith and despite asking them what it was that they saw in Wilder that I obviously couldn’t, they never really seemed to come up with an answer. I’ve seen an alarmingly large amount of them claim that the appalling home form doesn’t matter because we’ve been unbeaten away. One even claimed that the number of goals conceded away from home made us serious title contenders, conveniently glossing over the fact that we had lost 5 games at home. Are they insane? Do they really believe that you can be shit in half of your matches and still finish top of the pile? Glossing over facts is something the Chrisciples have been good at though, countless times I have been told that we have progressed in the last three years under Wilder. No, we’ve finished 12th, 9th and 9th and last season finished with 3 points less than the season before, please explain to me how that can be described as progression?

It’s not just the refusal to acknowledge facts, but also the insults I’ve received, I often post my also-valid views and opinions on the official OUFC facebook page where I have received the most ridiculous comments from my fellow fans (although I’m not that keen to be associated with some of them on there). I’m called disloyal, was once told that my opinions are retarded and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone say ‘if you’re not on board, go and support someone else’. On one occasion I was told to ‘fuck off and support Swindon’ because I said I didn’t particularly like the new kit! Are these actual grown-ups with proper jobs and responsibilities? Think about what they are actually saying there, I’ve supported this club for 24 years and because I don’t like the kit, I should forget those years, cheers and tears and take my support and my money and plough it into our biggest rivals? And anyone who feels as I do should do the same? So they want half of our supporters to leave the club therefore reducing its revenue dramatically and probably cause us to plummet out of the league in the process and somehow that makes them a better supporter than me? I don’t understand how voicing an opinion on a regular basis can be seen as anything but feeling passionate about the club and, whilst I don't necessarily agree with their views,  questioning another fans loyalty or passion is something I wouldn’t dream of doing. One particularly charming little turd even went to the trouble of sending me a personal message on facebook asking me not to be a depressing prick! Funnily enough he didn’t send that message to any big burly men...

Eventually it got to the stage where I didn’t feel welcome at the club I’d supported since I saw Dave Penney score in a pre-season friendly in 1989, it was like there was a Chrisciples clique and if you were not part of it and didn’t back absolutely every single thing Wilder did then you were not wanted at the club. I also found myself actually thinking that I would like to see us lose an away game just to see how these people would react and what their excuse would be. How on earth did that situation arise, where I actually didn’t care if we lost? Ironically it was the people accusing me of being disloyal that were the ones actually pushing me towards disloyalty. I’d never stop going to support my team (despite suggestions to do so) and not once did I call for Wilder’s head during a match, but I’d lost the knot in my stomach, the excitement and the tension had gone for me and I wanted it back. When it was finally announced that Wilder had resigned following a farcical few hours the previous evening I started to look forward to the next match again and as I listened to the away match at Exeter the next day, I welcomed the return of that knot in my stomach as we hung on for a draw in the final moments. I’d suddenly got that buzz back and looking at the way the players performed in the home win against Wimbledon the following Saturday (and also from what I’ve heard..) I’d say they’ve got theirs back too.

As I write this we still don’t know who the next manager will be, there are plenty of names flying around and seemingly a new bookies favourite each day. Some names are more welcome on the list than others but I’m sure whoever is crowned the next King of the Kassam, the Chrisciples will all be 100% behind him and every decision he makes, would make them terribly disloyal otherwise of course...

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