A wild night out in Oxford, at the Kassam Stadium – Carl Marston’s Travels with Town
- Credit: Archant
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 121 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he spotlights Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium, ahead of Oxford’s visit to Portman Road this weekend.
The Kassam Stadium, the home of Oxford United (tomorrow's visitors to Portman Road) for the last 19 years, hosted one of the most weather-beaten games of football I have seen in many-a-year, only a month ago.
With the exception of Town's home clash with Leicester City, in a glorious winter wonderland during the Roy Keane era - when the pitch was covered in snow, the lines had to keep being cleared, and Portman Road was home to a blizzard - the recent trip to Oxford featured the most extreme weather conditions I can remember.
Wind and rain; rain and wind.
The heavens opened that evening. Would the match start? Would the match finish?
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At one stage, my money would have been on an abandonment, especially when referee Tom Nield took off the players for an 18-minute period during the worst of the weather, when the ball had difficulty rolling across the sodden surface.
But the players did come back on, to play out a fairly predictable goalless draw.
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Keane's men were already 3-0 up, against Leicester City (on December 18, 2010), when referee Stuart Attwell called for a 17-minute halt in play early in the second half, to clear the pitch. Play then resumed and Town ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
There was no such luck for Paul Lambert's men at the Kassam, on January 14. The match escaped an abandonment, but neither side really looked like scoring.
I found the whole experience quite apt, on this my first visit, given the stormy start to life for the Kassam Stadium.
Oxford's proposed new home, after 76 years at their beloved Manor Ground (1926 to 2001), was plagued by problems long before a ball was kicked in anger.
Even now it looks strange and eerie, with it's one completely open end (West End), overlooking the car park, a start contrast to the three big stands that otherwise skirt the pitch.
And 'no,' for once I didn't have that reassuring ability to see my car from the press box (unlike past visits to the likes of Blackpool and Exeter, when their stadiums were being upgraded).
Instead, my car was half-a-mile up Grenoble Road, which, by the way, is an alternative name for the Kassam Stadium, as is the 'United Stadium,' which fans tried to make popular a few years ago.
But I digress.
The early days of the Kassam were rocky, very rocky.
Construction started in 1996, but was suspended before Christmas, 1997, blighted by financial problems.
It was a long suspension. In fact, tools were downed and no further work was done until February, 2000, following Firoz Kassam's purchase of the club in early 1999.
Oxford's uncertainty off the pitch was mirrored by the uncertainty on it.
The club's best players were sold, to ease the financial difficulties, so that although construction had started around the time that the U's had won promotion to the second tier, two relegations soon followed, with the club beginning life at their new ground in the fourth tier.
Worse was to follow, before it got any better.
Home form at the Kassam was pretty dreadful, during the early months, and the unthinkable happened in 2005-06 with relegation out of the Football League.
Oxford fans could be excused for starting to pine for life back at the Manor Ground.
But the good times have now returned to Oxford. The club rose to fifth, after the 0-0 draw against Town last month, although they have since dropped back to 10th.
The Kassam Stadium is a happier place to be, even on a wild night like last month. Conditions should be slightly calmer at Portman Road today.
Club : Oxford United
Found: 1893 (127 years ago, as Headington United)
Ground: Kassam Stadium (since 2001)
Distinctive feature: the main entrance to the stadium features a wide expanse of reflective glass panelling.
Oxford's early home form at the new ground was so bad - 13 defeats in their first 17 home matches - that it was believed a gypsy curse hung over the ground, laid by a gypsy evicted from the site during construction. As a result, an exorcism was conducted by the Bishop of Oxford!
Home form has improved.
Tuesday, January 14, 2020: Oxford United 0 Ipswich Town 0.