When you attend a lot of football matches, sometimes you struggle to find a reason to go to a different one. That is the situation I found myself on the afternoon of March 21, 2006.
It was a cold day, which worried me for postponements – the grounds of Lancashire are not averse to freezing when there is ice around; not for nothing do they call Boundary Park ‘Ice Station Zebra’.
I looked through the fixtures at lunchtime, and nothing jumped out at me. Looking back, Harrogate Town were at home, Rochdale were at home (I’ve never been to Spotland to this day) and even Bradford City were at home. They were all possibles, but none of the games leapt out at me.
During the course of the afternoon, the football rumour mill started to churn and the appointment of Jim Smith as the new Oxford United manager was cranked out. The Bald Eagle himself, in a new job, in a game just down the road. I wasn’t the biggest Jim Smith fan in the world, but it seemed a good idea. Likely to be his last job as a manager, and we could be there at the outset. Welcome Bald Eagle, and fare thee well.
We hopped in the car and went to Gigg Lane for Bury v. Oxford. Gigg Lane is a ground with mixed memories for Huddersfield fans. We have secured some memorable results there (mainly draws) and I once saw our brand new Belgian goalkeeper not only get sent off within 10 minutes of the start of the season, but he seemed to express his frustration by cupping his hands.
To Gigg Lane it was, a haven of memories and excitement.
It was cold. Did I mention this? As we approached the ground, the tickets were in excess of £20 and we both recoiled at the price. Even for Jim Smith, it seemed a lot, but we paid, and we made our way in, two of just 1,882 who attended.
The game, when it began, was abysmal. There was some former Terrier interest – Paul Scott was playing, as well as Jon Newby, and future Premier League winner Kasper Schmeichel was in goal. He was just ‘Manchester City loanee Kasper Schmeichel’ back then.
At half time, after lamenting the action on our way to the tea bar, we sat down with our hot drinks. There is something comforting about a boiling hot cup of tea on a cold night, and we returned to our seats to absorb some of the warmth. Not long afterwards, we decided to put our tea bags on the seats in front to see how long it took to cool down.
They were frozen solid within five minutes, and by full time we couldn’t peel them off the seats (sorry to Bury FC for that – perhaps that extra cleaning time is why the tickets cost more). Soon after that, the second half started, though there was just as little action as in the first.
After an hour, I declared it the worst game I had ever attended (out of around 500) in the hope that it might improve. Soon after that, Bury won a penalty. Tom Kennedy converted it and I turned to my mate.
“Oxford are going to score now,” I said, “because nobody deserves to win this game.”
Three minutes later, they did, a bundled goal from a nothing chance. Two poor teams cancelling each other out and boring nearly 2000 people to tears in the process.
We left the ground knowing we had at least an experience to look back on, though never to repeat.
Jim Smith was unveiled as Oxford United manager the following day.