Saturday 9th July 2016 ko 15.00
SOLIHULL MOORS 1 (Hayden 68)
OXFORD UNITED 1 (Thomas 54)
For a newish ground Damson Park is far more interesting than you’d expect. It’s only been a football ground since 1998, when the stadium was constructed from the remains of a golf driving range. Have a closer look at the cover behind the goal and imagine practicing your swing… The afternoon proved to be far more interesting than the mere location though.
Older Oxford United fans will remember regular trips to this part of the world during Ian Atkins’ stint as manager. Now I’m not saying it was convenient for him, living locally, or that we seemed to have a game wherever his great friend Nicky Cross was managing, but I did enjoy visits to the likes of Studley BKL, and a side with links to this club, Moor Green. It was good to see Atkins at this game, maintaining a low profile watching a club he managed with little style, but with more success than most during Firoz Kassam’s time as owner.
Solihull Borough had spent some time groundsharing at nearby Moor Green in the 1990’s and when Moor Green’s Moorlands home was all but destroyed by arsonists in 2005, they returned to the favour. The result was that 2 years later the 2 clubs merged, taking Moor Green’s place in the Conference North and playing at Damson Park.
The ground was fascinating at the time of the merger, and remains so now. There have been 2 changes though. The first is that for the first time Damson Park, now rebranded, “The Automated Technology Group Stadium” will be hosting National League Premier Division football for the first time, and the second is very most a consequence of the National North championship. There’s now a temporary stand on the far side presumably to allow for segregated visiting fans’ seats, but does mean the away fans won’t get the fantastic view of planes taking off from Birmingham airport!
But I won’t remember Solihull Moors for any of that. I’d told my 81-year-old father of my plans, and his face told me far more than his voice could. I contacted the club to see whether they could provide him with a wheelchair space. They could, and he was afforded an excellent view, but the way he was courteously treated by everyone involved at the club did Solihull Moors great credit. Please take this as our thanks, and all the best from these two Oxford United supporters, we’ll certainly keep an eye for your results this season.
From an Oxford United perspective, there was a sense of shock amongst many. Last season’s top goalscorer Kemar Roofe had been sold to Leeds United the previous Thursday, and club captain Jake Wright had been released from the final year of his contract that morning. Whilst Roofe’s departure wasn’t unexpected Wright’s was, and as the final player from our 2010 Conference Play-Off Final winning team I felt his loss in similar way as when the last 1986 Milk Cup final winning player, Les Phillips, left the club.
You don’t watch a preseason game like you watch a normal match. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my cousin years ago. She’s a fashion designer, while my idea of fashion is to wonder which t-shirt is clean enough to wear! I once commented that the clothes you see on the catwalk are wearable by virtually no one, and her response was both erudite and interesting. Apparently you should look for a specific cut or colour, or a shape, rather than the whole garment, and its not dissimilar for this kind of game.
You look for formations, and how players interact with other. It’s about hints and a massive one was the non-appearance of highly-rated winger Callum O’Dowda . The club gave the reason as illness, and such is the nature of fans the explanation wasn’t taken at face value. Somehow I don’t think the Royal College of Physicians would recognise a bad case of Bristolcititis!?
But there’s another facet to this. This was the only away fixture in the UK Oxford United’s first XI will play this preseason. They flew to Spain straight afterwards, and while I’m sure the hundreds of fans who’ve traveled out with them will have a wonderful time I’m slightly uneasy about it.
Think of your nearest Football League team, and then think of all the non-league clubs nearby. This fixture saw a bumper crowd for the Moors, now imagine that translated to our local clubs like Banbury United, Didcot Town or Kidlington. Chinese tourists have discovered Kidlington’s delights, so why can’t Oxford United? The financial impact on these clubs is huge, so why travel abroad when there’s a local club who really needs the gate? From my perspective the professional club visiting the smaller local clubs is where my love of non-league started. I’d hate to see that pathway disappear.