Saturday 7th November 2015 ko 13.30
Oxfordshire FA “John Fathers” Junior Shield 2nd Round
MASONS ARMS 1 (Long 22)
BENSON LIONS 2 (Swales 14 Willis 55)
Att 16 at Margaret Road Recreation Ground, Headington Quarry, Oxford
In so many ways if any game had my name on it, it was this one. I’m from this part of Oxford, my local is the Masons Arms, and I serve on the committee of the North Berkshire League, the league where Benson Lions ply their trade. But that’s only a superficial look at why this game was a must see for me.
Let’s track back the best part of 40 years to a small boy being taken to his first football training session. The club was Quarry Rovers, the boys section of Quarry Nomads, and I made my way to Margaret Road with high hopes. I’d seen my Dad returning home from the Manor Ground with tales of the Demi-Gods at Oxford United. And like so many little boys of the late 70’s I decided quickly that was what I wanted in life. There were of course a few snags with my idea…..
The first, bless her, was my infamously sport-phobic mother. It had been raining so mum decided that the appropriate footwear for football under the circumstances was wellington boots. I don’t remember much of the session itself, but other children can be remarkably cruel! The situation was made just a little bit worse when despite my sartorial faux pas, I was actually invited back, but Mr Lay the coach decided to address my equipment shortcomings,
“You need to get him football boots, and a proper kit Mrs Reade,”
he suggested, to which Mum asked which colour?
“Arsenal colours,” he replied, but Mum’s response was priceless.
“And what colours would they be?” she asked.
Two people didn’t laugh, and I still maintain that if I’d had the correct kit, you’d be now be reading the memoirs of a former England international. Either that, or if every other footballer had been forced to wear wellies…. It’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!
Time’s gone by, and Quarry Nomads were swallowed up in 2005 by Oxford City to become their reserves, and re-kitted and moved to Court Place Farm with no link to their Headington Quarry roots.
Those roots are worth thinking about, even if Oxford City didn’t. The Quarry is where the stone was quarried to build Oxford’s “Dreaming Spires” and to this day the area retains a separate identity to all that surrounds it. In the centre of it all is the Masons Arms, the smallest pub in the area, but managing to be both a community hub, an occasional comedy venue, and the best darned real ale pub I’ve ever sat in. If any pub was to field a side at Margaret Road then it could only ever be the Masons Arms. They even wear an old black and white Quarry Nomads kit donated by former Nomads chairman Keith Dolton.
The club play in the Oxford City FA League, which is something of an unknown quantity, not least due to its habit of putting “Council TBC” for the location of its games on its “FA FULLTIME” website. The league is nominally a feeder to the Oxon Senior League, but sides do transfer to the North Berkshire League too. There’s just one division these days, so with so few spectators a game with “The outside world” was likely to be intriguing.
The ground has changed little since my childhood wellies, and even since Quarry Nomads tenure here. The dugouts were demolished after one bout of vandalism too many and the pitchside rail now surrounds Chinnor FC’s 2nd XI pitch. The clubhouse has suffered badly since I thought it looked tired as a child. The old bar is now no longer in use and has been co-opted as a referee’s room. I’m used to footballers complaining about lack of hot water but there wasn’t even cold water for the visitors to fill their water bottles! The word is that soon the block will be demolished and replaced, and although that cannot happen quickly enough, the finance will doubtless be a massive issue.
Benson Lions are of course the club from RAF Benson, and who hosted two quite wonderfully staged games on the annual North Berkshire Hop. Since a fair few of the players are serving military personnel there is always the question of how many of their players will be away on duty, that fact may account for why they’re struggling at the wrong end of the North Berks’ third division this season. I’m fairly certain the flypast by an RAF Airbus A400 during the second half wasn’t anything to do with the Lions but knowing their chairman Jon Radcliffe as I do, I’m certainly not eliminating the possibility completely!
On an extremely muddy pitch, the Lions had just that little too much for their hosts. After a slow start they grabbed control scoring through Chris Swales and Luke Willis, and despite Jamie Long’s deft lob for the hosts, the Lions held on for a deserved victory.
In the scheme of things it’ll probably be many years before I watch another game at Margaret Road there are after all so many other places to visit. But on that one given Saturday the footballing stars aligned to give me something close to a game designed with me in mind, and you can’t let an opportunity like that slip!