Who Are These Jobbers?
Welcome one and all to the long-awaited STEWART DONALD DERBY!
In the red corner we have Jack Ross and his bunch of sexy Mackem bastards and in the yellow corner we have... erm… [checks notes] Karl Robinson and his band yellow-bellied bull-loving Oxfordites.
This hotly-anticipated duel between a stuttering promotion hopeful and an also-ran aiming to keep its head above water evokes memories of a simpler time.
We live in an age where every football match on the planet is somehow accessible. Fork out for your multiple TV subscriptions, install that dodgy VPN attachment to your web browser, or lay your computer waste to endless viruses and you can be watching the big game of the Persian Gulf Pro League before you know it.
However, there was a time when such resources were scarce and you had to rely on Sky Sports to dish out your game once every blue moon. Imagine the fevered excitement on both Wearside and Oxfordshire when the Division One clash between the two sides in February 1999 was to receive some very special treatment.
Sky decided that Sunderland’s trip to the Manor Ground would be the first English football match to be screened on a pay-per-view basis. Supporters gathered in their living rooms on Wearside - documented on the 1998/99 season review VHS (that’s a low budget Sunderland ‘Till I Die series for all you youngsters) - paid their £7.95 and watched Peter Reid’s red and white wizards face Malcolm Shotton’s U’s.
Sky’s reasoning for the choice was, by Sky’s standards, actually perfectly reasonable stating that due to the low allocation given to away fans it would be a indicator of how many fans would pay for the service. Also, in part, because Reid’s side had been so bloody good everybody would want to watch.
After Sunderland dishing out a 7-0 bodying earlier in the season, the Sky execs would’ve been licking their lips and the thought at another high-scoring masterclass from the Bloody Lads. Naturally, the game was intensely dull and finished 0-0.
There is always a sense of pride of being a guinea pig for Sky clasping two hands around the throat of English football and never, ever releasing. Just another cog in the Murdoch empire - don’t you feel all warm inside?
What’s The Ground Like?
Oxford United left their beloved, ramshackled Manor Ground home in 2001 to move to a stadium that is still unfinished. The Kassam Stadium is the embodiment of the lower league club mentality in the early-2000s which saw a raft of teams leave popular, albeit tired, grounds and relocate to modern surroundings on the outskirts of the town.
From Darlington to Shrewsbury, many of these clubs managed to drain all character out of their home just to gain convenient access to the local branch of Frankie & Benny’s. Named after former chairman Firoz Kassam, the stadium only has three stands, with the West End providing delightful views of a car park.
Sunderland supporters have already snapped up the relatively small allocation of 1,822 tickets and will be housed in a section of the North Stand.
How Do I Get There?
It’s a long old hike to Oxford, so set that alarm for the crack of dawn and let’s head south. If you’re driving take the A1(M) to junction 35 for the M18 and M1 down to junction 15A. Take the A43 and then M40 before exiting for the A34 at junction 9 heading towards Oxford. This will take you around the city and at the roundabout carry on before turning left onto Grenoble Road following the signs for the Kassam Stadium.
There is free parking at the ground but you need to turn up early to bag a spot. There is also parking available at the nearby cinema and street parking along Grenoble Road. If all else fails, plop OX4 4XP into your sat nav.
If you’re arriving by train, Oxford railway station is a sweet four miles from the ground which is just tremendous. You can catch the number 5 bus from outside the station which drops off close to the ground or get the 3A from Speedwell Street which goes straight to the ground.
A Love Supreme buses leave the Stadium of Light at 7am with return fares priced at £42. Book your place here.
Where Can I Get The Sesh Started?
Hey, remember that Frankie & Benny’s I spoke of? You can drink in there! That’s right, nothing says a day out at the football than enjoying a cold, flavourless Budweiser in an American-style diner in a car park absolutely miles from anything. If that doesn’t take your fancy then maybe supping a tall, frosty one in Hollywood Bowl will satisfy your thirsty needs.
The nearest actual pub to the Kassam Stadium is the George Inn on Sandford Road, around a 15-minute walk from the ground. Those fortunate enough to be arriving in Oxford city centre then there is a much better selection of pubs, bars and everything in between.
A short walk from Oxford station is The Kite Inn on Mill Street which ranks among the city’s best craft beer bars with a huge selection of ales on offer as well. From there you can head up Hollybush Row to the fantastically quirky The Jam Factory, the former site of Frank Cooper jam and marmalade factory does belting food and loads of local beer.
Venture further into the city and you’ll find the faux-Victorian surroundings of St Aldates Tavern on St Aldate’s which has lovely beers and an extensive food menu. The Bear Inn on Alfred Street is Oxford’s oldest surviving pub and remains popular with everyone from hip young students to old fellas talking about Brexit.
I’m Staying Owa, Is There Owt To Do?
Oxford is a prime contender for extending your away day adventure. Why not? It’s a canny long way away and it’s smart little place. You can pretend you’re all git posh and swan around the ground’s of one of the country’s most prestigious universities, or gawp at the majesty of its museums, chapels and art galleries.
If there is one thing that Oxford bloody likes it’s a museum. Swing by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to feast your eyes on some dinosaur bones or head to the ultra-cool Pitts Rivers Museum which contains everything from Japanese Noh masks to weird shrunken heads.
However, if you want to pull off that iconic hipster vibe you have been looking for then Modern Art Oxford is the place for you with a host of razor sharp exhibitions to showcase the best of contemporary art from across the globe. Afterwards, chill out in the quaint surroundings of University of Oxford Botanic Garden and make it your own personal oasis.