“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” – Job 1:21.
I am by no means a religious fan, but I can not help thinking of this Old Testament chapter and verse with yesterdays news.
Early in the week, we got what could only be described the best FA Cup tie we have had since 2018.
Last season we got drawn away to Nottingham Forest – a repeat of the 2018 3rd round; our last decent FA Cup draw.
What makes up a good FA Cup draw? Everyone has their own criteria.
Some prefer “the easiest team at home” whilst lower league clubs go for “the biggest team away”. Me? I want an away game, to a club I have not been to before, at a ground of decent enough size where a decent amount of Arsenal can go.
Nottingham Forest in 2018 was the last of that, despite the result.
In 2019, we face Blackpool away (horrible journey to make in January) and Man U at home. 2020 we had Covid, so away games were not on the agenda.
2021 saw a home game to Newcastle and a trip to Southampton, whilst 2022 saw a repeat of the game (and result) to Forest.
Drawn against Oxford United away looked a cracker.
A team who we had not travelled to since 1988 in the old Division One. A side we had not played since 2003. And less than an hours train journey from Paddington.
The buzz was real, but I also foresaw the future, turning to a mate and saying “bet we will be Monday 8pm”.
And as the Lord gave us a great draw, he then proceeded to chanel his powers through ITV and the game was selected for that 8pm Monday slot.
We already have a horrid Christmas period.
The West Ham game moved to 8pm (then 7:45pm) on the 26th already meant a race to get a train home and no real chance of a post-game beer. TfL will be running their Bank Holiday service which means not many trains beying 11.30pm.
We then visit Brighton on NYE – a trip younger me would’ve been all over with hotels and night out on the south coast. But then our first game of 2023 was moved to Tuesday night against Newcastle.
A disgraceful kick off time on the first working day of the year (and worse for them than us – they will need to take two days off work for it).
They really should ensure all “first games of the year” happen on New Years Day (or the in lieu Bank Holiday). Asking loyal fans to take two days off work just as we return to work is not right.
And now we have the Oxford United game move to a Monday night. Instead of it now being a cracking away day, it now becomes a horror show.
Do I work before the game or not? Maybe need to take a half day. And after the game, it will be a late dash to get home.
Oxford’s Grenoble Road stadium is one of those build next to a roundabout in an industrial park outside the city. Think Reading and Stoke.
It is 4 and a half miles from the station – a 90 minute walk or a bus journey back.
Under these circumstances, we would usually find a pub local to the stadium, let the crowd die down before jumping in a taxi. But with the now evening kick off, that is not really an option.
That last train I can get back to mine from Paddington (I live on the London / Essex borders) is 00:17. Now I need to get the 22:32 from Oxford and hope there are no delays.
So rather than it being a decent away day – if it happened lunch gtime or mid-afternoon on the Saturday or Sunday – it is now a horror show. And once again shows that TV companies do not care about travelling fans (and the criticism of the Super League was just content for them!)
Prior to the Nottingham Forest game in 2018, we had a couple of decent trips in 2017.
Preseton North End away ticked the boxes. And whilst Sutton was a Monday night, it was a ground no one had been and there were trains home!
After Forest, Preston and Sutton, the only other decent trip we have in the last decade was Brighton (prior to them being promoted).
In recent years, we have had far too many games against Premier League or recently relegated sides. As a travelling fan, I have been starved of a decent away trip.
And in Oxford I thought we had one to kick off this seasons FA Cup. And now, in reality, I probably will not got.
Rail strike scheduled for 7th Jan is killing the FA CUP 3rd round fof many fans.
Whilst I like the idea of retaining guards on trains , sympathy on offer issues causing me to miss games is waning.
You can get the Oxford Tube back to London, it runs all night and is cheaper and late night shouldn’t be too much longer.
You have 0% chance of making that train, take the Oxford tube.