the real fa cup


001.JPG Oxford City 1 Didcot Town 1
FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round 2011/12

In a recent tweet, co-proprietor of The Real FA Cup, Damon Threadgold reflected on the fact that Marks Tey is perhaps the only station that rivals Didcot Parkway for glumness but at least most commuters on Brunel’s Great Western line avoid having to alight at such a wasteland. As someone who has spent the past 7 years working a day a week in the area, I can vouch for the town’s equal blandness. In the book ‘Crap Towns’, Didcot featured prominently, having pioneered the concept of the one sided high street, provided climbing practice for members of Fathers for Justice by way of its hulking power station and became the home for Europe’s largest industrial estate.

So the good number of red-scarved Didcotians who made the shirt trip north to Oxford on Saturday will perhaps have enjoyed escaping for the day, even if the Court Place Farm Stadium is situated far from dreaming spires in the northerly suburb of Marston.

002.JPG Myself and two fellow Unfortunates started our day in Headington – once the home to City’s bigger rivals United – now decamped to the southern rim of Blackbird Leys. The White Hart proved to be an excellent staging post, situated at the prettier end of the neighbourhood and resplendent in local stone. A range of pies and ales consumed, we threaded our way through the unprepossessing streets and estates to the stadium itself.

City are perhaps known as a managerial staging post for Bobby Moore who, like Bobby Charlton at Preston is often cited as proof that a great player does not a great manager make – even if he was assisted in his time at the old White House Ground by one Harry Redknapp. This has always been a biggish non-league club, having spent many years in the Isthmian League, and this encounter was to bring together two teams traditionally separated by a chasm in the non-league pyramid; Didcot having spent most of their existence in the Hellenic League.

003.JPG In recent years, the gap has closed, the Railwaymen having stormed to FA Vase glory in 2005 and attained Southern League status, quickly being promoted to that league’s Premier Division. However, a 3-0 defeat against Saturday’s opponents was to signal relegation back to Division 1 South and West last May so there was an element of the grudge about this particular match. Indeed, Oxford have started well this year – a 6-0 reverse against runaway leaders AFC Totton their only setback as they sit tidily in second spot. Town, with only 5 points gleaned from 7 this year looked on for a hiding.

005.JPG We arrived ten minutes before – enough time to survey City’s well-appointed quarters. The welcoming supporters club takes up space behind one goal, with outside seating on this changeable, but largely sunny day. Programmes were £1.50 and admittance £9 – perhaps a little steep even if the ground is located in one of Britain’s wealthiest small cities. Elsewhere, three prim stands patrol each touchline – the same number  as across the city at the Kassam – but I was distracted pre-match by a flying football – my camera sent spinning out of my grasp and ending up no good to man nor beast thereon.

The home side started brightly – with 38 year old Lee Steele drawing on his huge experience to cause a number of problems to a Didcot defence featuring 16 year veteran Jamie Heapy. Early on, Steele latched on to a through ball and finished calmly – his squat, composed appearance lending him the air of a born footballer – a man who has burst the net at a host of league clubs down the years – most notably at Shrewsbury and Leyton Orient. City looked set to dominate

But their southerly rivals were having none of it. Left winger Rayner Da Silva was causing immense problems down the left and the game remained tight – muscle too often winning the day and time at a premium. Before long, there was a smart, Cruyff-like turn from Danny Seaward and he was in to curl the ball past Jason Mooney.

004.JPG A half time pint enjoyed, we emerged for the second half – and Seaward and Craig Faulconbridge began to look very dangerous up front for Diddy (the nickname used by those Railwaymen fans in attendance). Half chances were spurned but it was Oxford who looked set to win the game when a penalty was awarded after the ball hit Heapy’s stray arm. Up stepped Steele but his low effort was saved by David Lyons – “Justice” shouted a red bobble hatted oldster – perhaps a canny piece of product placement for the French techno band’s new album which is due imminently.

It turned out to be a well-deserved, well-earned draw for Town and they’ll welcome the big city slickers to Loop Meadow on Tuesday. We trudged back into town to enjoy a few pints in the St. Clement’s area, on the eastern edge of a city centre to whose residents football can often seem to be an alien pursuit. With the old Headington United side now in a pretty soulless out of town stadium, it could be time for an Oxford City resurgence.

Words and pictures by Rob Langham. You can see more of Rob’s writing about the Football League on The Two Unfortunates.

1 Comment
  1. In the wake of the game, I commenced a correspondence on Twitter with Matt Chalk – Didcot Town FC’s “Kit manager, cone setter-outer, goalkeeper coach, normal coach and cake taster”. Follow his tweets on @mttchlk

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