Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024  



In the week leading up to Wembley a glance at bookmakers’ odds showed Bolton as strong favourites. Five times more likely to be playing in the Championship than us (4/9 them, 15/8 us). Favourites yes I get that given they finished third with 10 more points than us and had given us a good going over at their place in March, but five times more likely, really?

After they inflicted that 5-0 on us they lost 1-0 to Derby, no disgrace, then went unbeaten in the last seven of the regular season. Winning three and drawing the others thus netting 13 points. Goals scored 15, goals conceded 8. In our last seven games we gained 14 points from four wins, two draws and one defeat, scoring 17 and letting in 4. We kept three clean sheets and one goal was the most any side scored past us. Bolton let in two twice and three once. Over the two legged semis we were only breached once, Bolton conceded four times including three at home in the second leg.

To state the obvious it’s what each team does on the day that counts but such stats should stand us in good stead and we’ve kicked on from the low of the Toughsheet Community Stadium experience where we learned a lot.

I wrote the above before the day, honest – and have the evidence to prove it. Didn’t have the balls to put any money on us though because that would have been the kiss of death.


It’s not just the players, fans want to be fit for the biggest of big days. There’s been a nasty cold doing the rounds. I came down with it the previous Saturday. Never entered my head it might be covid until I found out that some people I know have that bloody virus again. A test thankfully proved negative but I took it very easy for four or five days. Mrs FV stayed cold free but not my son who was a couple of days behind me in trying to shake the symptoms off. Those I know that had covid managed a negative reading before the big day to much relief no doubt. The legal obligation for sufferers to isolate has of course long gone.


So many trains passing through Bicester via the town’s two stations. Spoilt for choice but no chance of a seat on the 11:54 as they were all taken when it pulled into the North station and insisted on going right to the end of the platform making most of the many fans waiting have to scurry along.

I didn’t detect any real buzz just quiet anticipation and apprehension.


Sat outside Wenzel’s bakery watching the world go by. So many familiar faces clocked and many many more throughout the day. People I didn’t know had much interest in football. I will have missed loads more mates too. Seems half of Oxfordshire was there. This meant so much to the county.

Tandoori Fusion opposite did a very good trade with the police force. Is the food that good or do they get a discount? Might try it out next time I’m back.

Truthfully I’m not that interested in pre-match drinks unless they’re quality real ales or craft beers. Not much, if any, of that to be found around Wembley, it’s just not what the area is all about. The Green Man was the first mentioned designated pub for Oxford fans. Been there, done that before. Very long queues for beer I don’t like. Very long queue for sub-standard toilets (what a miserable old git I am). And this time I heard the queue to get in was massive with bouncers advising the thirsty to go elsewhere.

On closer inspection there were lots of other designated drinking areas for those located in the West part pf the ground, i.e. us. We made it to the Corner House. Quite packed but doable. Drinks seemed to be £6 a pint which for the area isn’t bad and the Guinness was as it usually is, drinkable. As to be expected more recognisable faces including some I wasn’t expecting. Even a couple of Bolton fans had wandered in. The one I spoke to was confident without being cocky. He was just being honest. I informed him that we’d improved since the 5-0 thrashing. He said their defence couldn’t cope with big physical centre-forwards which surprised me as they had Ricardo Santos in their ranks. I reassured him that we do not have such a centre-forward.


This was nothing like the 46 game slog and to some extent, the two legged semi-final as well, which brought us here. Knock out football for the privileged few who have earned that right tacked on to the end of the standard fixtures was unheard of when I first started watching football. Wouldn’t change it for the world.

And the prize could hardly be bigger. Well, try telling that to clubs contesting the Championship play-off final. But we’re Oxford Utd, we’ve not been in tier two since 1999.

This is the only time you’ll play a league fixture at a neutral venue. A venue so large that anyone who wants a ticket can get one.  The total attendance was 70,472 (2,020 down on last year’s final, Sheffield Wed v Barnsley). I’ve not seen a breakdown between us and Bolton but would guess at a rough 50:50 split.

The atmosphere in this vast stadium with the roof somewhere in the sky can never replicate that of the crammed intimacy of say London Road Peterborough, but from where I was sitting there was plenty of noise throughout and a real expectation in the concourse beforehand. If there was apprehension it was well hidden.

Our seats were in block 139 row 23 but given the design of that area there was only one row in front of us with a Sky Bet “take time out to think” banner covering the drop to the ground below. This suited me well. At an event like this there’s always people moving from seats to concourse for refreshments/toilets even whilst the action is taking place. Little chance of distraction where we were. I was there to watch every bit of the play.

I honestly did not recognise anyone in the immediate area around us. No matter. Some were deeply into it. Tears in eyes said so. Hugged a complete stranger when we scored as I suspect many did. We had, as I suspected, got tickets in an area that families with young children had been directed to. These kids are the club’s future as has been said over and over. On a day like this there’s a lot of them decked out in yellow. For the most part mums and dads were supervising very well indeed. Depending on age life long memories will have been made.

There were though three quite little ‘uns who appeared to have been left unattended sat in the wrong seats. They looked a bit perplexed when I explained they had to move. They did move. Then were moved on again. I didn’t hear any lost children announcements so I assume all ended well.

Some of the kids were so young they will not have had a clue what was going on and there were quite a few who had greater interest in the numerous yellow and blue balloons than what was taking place on the pitch. This did become a touch annoying with so many of them floating around (the balloons not the kids). I noticed that the Dad sat right in front of us kept dropping them through a gap and under the Sky Bet banner. Terrible man that I am I popped quite a few but did also hand some back to doe-eye youngsters.


This was an absolutely phenomenal performance. Professional to the core. Game plan carried out to a man. That game plan masterfully put together by Des Buckingham.

We’ve become incredibly good without the ball. Teams can be in control of games and win games by having much less than 50% of possession. Football moves on. We’ve moved on from being just a possession based side that likes to keep the ball at the back. Different styles suit different squads. Not all managers think the same. Depending on what you’ve got flexibility can be key. It’s easy to forget that Buckingham has had just one transfer window to shape the squad and only fairly recently has he had his own backroom team on board.

We only had the ball 37% of the time. We made 302 passes to Bolton’s 511 and they were more accurate than us with these passes. They put in 25 crosses to our 8. We only had 3 corners; they had 7. We made 24 clearances; they made just 5.

But here’s the thing. Bolton did not have one shot on target and only five in total. Of our nine, five were on target and two went in.

We didn’t go charging in trying to take the ball off the Bolton back three when they had it. Instead we kept our shape with bodies behind the ball. We were content to block and make the barrier between wherever the ball may be and our goal seemingly just about impenetrable most of the time. Even when they did manage to get in and around our box with the ball at the feet of some talented players we didn’t panic and make rash tackles, instead we stood our ground with block after block.

We did though tackle when we had to, although not always successfully. The one that will stick in my mind was made by Sam Long with the game not even a minute old. That set down a marker. He won the ball perfectly with his right foot but his left leg caught Paris Maghoma’s left leg. Nothing malicious, nothing intentional, just one of those things. The man on loan from Brentford required nearly two minutes treatment and only made it to just after half time. Just imagine if the boot had been on the other foot and it had been a Bolton player who had put in such a tackle on Josh Murphy.

Because of our work-rate and total focus on the task in hand Bolton were being kept at arms-length but we ourselves hadn’t looked like scoring either. With that man Murphy in the team that’s neither here nor there. Given the right pass he’s likely to explode from the wing at any time.

In the 31st minute we kept the ball from a throw-in. One touch each from Mark Harris and Tyler Goodrham got the ball to Ruben Rodrigues, who had an exceptional game.  RR used his upper thigh to bring the ball under immediate control and played Murphy in with a quality pass. Our no.23 is presently on fire as we know and set about teasing Josh Dacres-Cogley. Shirt pulling didn’t stop him. From the edge of the area with his right foot he bent an effort on goal. Captain Ricardo Santos got a little head on the ball and helped it over Nathan Baxter’s dive. More evidence that this was to be our day. Out of nothing we were a goal up. I could scarcely believe it had happened.

Looking at many posts on social media from Bolton fans after it was all over revealed much anti-feeling against their team and certain players in particular. Obviously they will have seen their team play many times and be much better informed regarding the strengths and weaknesses of their players than someone like me who will have seen them twice a season live and a couple of times on TV. Many had their team down as bottlers with a manager who has no plan B. Familiar story? That’s certainly not OUFC in their current incarnation.

You get rare teams that are really good almost all of the time such as Manchester City and at the other end of the scale teams that suck and are clearly out of their depth for an entire season. Sheffield United during the 23/24 Premier League season for example. As for the rest it’s a case of form rising and dipping as the weeks tick by. As fans we need to understand and remember that. Our form was on an upward curve; Bolton’s wasn’t, well certainly not to the same extent, as I’ve pointed out earlier.

From what I’d seen of Santos previously I had him down as a big strong dominant centre-half, one which most clubs at L1 level would be happy to have. Bolton fans see a useless lump who can’t pass the ball.

There were still one or two Trotters supporters who took a more realistic view and agreed how good we had been.

Eleven minutes after the first goal the same creator and scorer were at it again. An unchallenged Maghoma got it all wrong when he got his head on a Cumming goal-kick. Instead of sending it back into the Oxford half it went behind him. Harris nodded it towards Rodrigues but neither side could claim the ball as theirs. Maghoma then sent it vertically and attempted to take it on his chest when it fell. RR’s foot then put it straight back up in the air. Quite scrappy but to win a game a team has to win these little scraps. Down came the ball once more and whilst it was doing so Rodrigues gave Maghoma a decisive shove out of the way. Top class control brought the ball under his spell and in an instant a pinged pass was played to Murphy who had set off on a run between defenders. One touch round the keeper and from a tight angle second touch second goal. Amazing. Off the scale. Can this really be happening?

Yes, this was dreamland alright.

All we had to do was get through the second half. What could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing as it turned out. Unlike Peterborough in the semi-final second leg, Bolton put us under no noticeable pressure. They never looked like scoring. We did though. Almost a given that it was Murphy who went close twice.  

In the 57th minute Rodrigues stretched and slid to cut out a Bolton pass the ball falling to Goodrham. He played it forward to Murphy. It was a case of “as per” as he slipped between the defenders supposedly forming a white rear-guard. This time the finish wasn’t quite there as Gethin Jones just about stayed with him.

Eight minutes later he nearly did it again. Marcus McGuane had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds when, after we’d defended a corner, he played the ball to none other than Mr Murphy. Away he raced from his own half only to be thwarted by Baxter on the edge of the six yard area.

MM had replaced Cameron Brannagan who was distraught to have to leave the pitch. Perhaps that caused some concern because Bran is such an influential talent and born winner but here’s a thing – and this is testament the whole squad that participated – we didn’t miss him. The change-over was seamless.  I watched Bolton on Sky in both their semi-final legs and observed how strong their bench was. Or so I thought. They’ve got us beat for strength in depth I thought. Wrong, not a bit of it. We had Josh McEachran coming on for Rodrigues with ten of the 90 minutes left. If ever you want a player to pass to a colleague and retain possession in comfortable fashion to see a game out he’s your man and that’s what we did at times as the match drew to a close.

Then Greg Leigh. What a player for a manager to have up his sleeve. What a sight when he bounds onto the pitch with those long springy strides and the hop and jumps he does. I bet that demoralised further already demoralised opponents.

I wasn’t surprised when the added minutes was nine. Given the way proceedings had gone this didn’t worry me anywhere near as much as it would have done in more Peterborough like circumstances.

In a game like this when we win like this refereeing decisions tend to be forgotten but in the final minute of the 90 Samuel Barrott made one of the worst decisions I’ve ever witnessed. In the centre circle Goodrham took the ball facing his own goal. A neat turn saw him attempt to go round George Thomason who put an arm on our man and stepped across him to stop him getting the ball. Result, Goodrham ends up with blood dripping from his nose and has to go off for treatment and a change of shirt, and a free-kick awarded to Bolton. Barrott, you absolute tosser.

Do I bother to talk about VAR? No, I’ll not bother. Never really came into it. Not one offside in the game for either side. The penalty shout when Baxter brought down Owen Dale. Some people look at it and swear it was outside the box; whilst others are adamant that the contact was inside but it didn’t matter.

The time tacked on the end went by fairly uneventfully and then after a quarter of a century we were back in the second tier of English football.  

To say that there were celebrations would be an understatement. With misty wide eyes I tried to take it all in and savour every moment but that’s quite hard when you’re so drained. 


The queuing system, blue for those heading into central London, pink for Bicester North and beyond and yellow for Bicester Village and Oxford was good in theory but rather impractical in the application with little communication informing patient passengers when they could pass through. Yellows completely blocking off the pinks. Big push through to ask confused stewards if pinks could pass as one or two had. “Yes” they said in a couldn’t care less manner. Having joined this queue we then waited a long time for a train to turn up. Way longer than on previous visits to the national stadium. And once on board our carriage was horrendous – rammed so standing again and the air conditioning wasn’t working.  Very unpleasant. A slight headache formed and I could feel my lips getting drier and drier. I think Mrs FV felt even worse and a mate hinted he wanted to get off. That was nothing to the state one lad a bit further down the carriage was in. His hair was soaking and sweat was dripping down his neck. I don’t know how far he had to go but he remained on board when we at last were able to sample the cool air when we alighted at Bicester North. I was really glad to get out having feared that there could have been a passing out or throwing up.

Soon forgotten. We are going to be playing in the Championship next season. That’s what is occupying my mind. I have to keep pinching myself.   


This totally blew me away. I couldn’t get my head round the numbers that turned out at short notice. I’d intended to have one beer and expected not to be out too long. As it turned out I had a couple in the Blenheim before and a couple afterwards. Plenty of fellow fans to chat to throughout the evening, some I’ve known for years and others I’ve never seen before, including the very nice couple from Didcot we spent quite a while in the company of whilst discussing our football club and it’s future.


Yes, the future. What will it be we ask? Well we know we can never know for sure. 

But here’s a few not very well thought out thoughts.

Almost every home game next season should be sold out. The away section will be and it will be a huge disappointment if the home one isn’t too. Prices will increase. Season ticket sales will be higher.

Twenty clubs to visit that we didn’t in 23/24. Much bigger grounds to go to including at least two new ones for me, both in Wales. There will be a third if Leeds win the Championship play-off final. I’ve never been to St Mary’s.

Demand for away tickets possibly outstripping supply.

Visitors to the Kassam supporting many big clubs laughing at our three sided ground.

Expectation from supporters of most other Championship clubs that we’ll go straight back down. After all we’re little Oxford and our current ground holds less than 12k when no-man’s land is taken into account. But don’t forget Luton’s Kenilworth Road holds similar and they were in the Premier League this season.

Starting the next campaign we’re 46 games away from both a return to L1 and the Premier League. There’s a possibility it could go either way. One is rather more likely than the other. You decide. I’d say the more realistic odds to look at and consider are those for us not to get relegated.

We’ll not have to play in rounds one and two of the FA Cup which should increase our chances of drawing a massive club away. I really do want to see us play on grounds like the Etihad, the Emirates and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All new to me. As would be the King Power, the Amex and the Gtech Community Stadium.

Players will come and players will go, as ever. Some who have been heroes in helping get us to where we are will be deemed not up to the next level. Billy Bodin has already gone. Talented out of contract players who have been instrumental in our success and who very much look Championship standard will be much sought after.

The Championship is a clown car of a division when it comes to the finances. In 22/23 the second-tier clubs’ wages-to-revenue ratio was 108%. We’ll be competing against clubs armed with parachute payments. This season Leicester’s wage bill was £60m, Southampton’s £40m, Leeds’s £39.5m. A bit further down was Norwich £24m and WBA £23m. Newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday paid £14.5m. It will be interesting to see what budget Des is given and how much those already in the building are given as an increase, if anything?  At the lower end of the scale relegated Rotherham’s wage bill was £6m and Plymouth, who survived, paid £6.5m. I guess we’re not far off that in L1 this season. About half the clubs pay in the range of £10m – £15m. We will of course be getting a lot of extra income through TV money.

We will be on TV more due to our elevated status and the new EFL deal with Sky. That will mean more inconvenient kick-off times.

And the most important issue regarding the future of OUFC, the absolute key, the Triangle. I just can’t see how it can be allowed to not happen. This weekend brought so much joy to so many in Oxfordshire. It must not be thrown away. The kids, and there were so many of them, must not be denied a life time of belonging, a life time of making and keeping dear friends through the local football club, a club we can all be proud of, a club that has done so much for the community and will continue to do so if allowed.

Future Fan’s Views? They do take up a lot of my time. Yes I know I could be a lot briefer, but I get carried away. After every season I question whether I’ll carry on but up to now I’ve always come back refreshed after a summer break raring to go. And next season we’ll be treading a different path.

Thanks to all of you who have given kind comments and feedback and for those of you who have spotted errors be they factual or grammatical. Also to those who have provided the photographs that I have used. And a special thanks to Colin for the financial analysis he’s provided on our opponents. Some eye openers there.

Enjoy your summer one and all.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024 at 1:40 pm and appears under News Items. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

© Rage Online 1998 - 2024 All rights reserved. If you want to copy stuff, please quote the source

another fine mash from ox9encoding