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Town and gown kick off

Like hundreds of other teachers across the country, I found the mid-January blues somewhat lifted by reaching the university application deadline, after more than four months of personal statements and references. After a time, it takes over your life.

"How was lunch?"

"I am delighted to recommend the fish. It showed great maturity and time management skills, auguring well for its future at dinner time."

Even the Christmas break brought little respite, as we headed south to see relatives in that most academic of locations, Oxford. My acquaintance with the city had been limited to occasional glimpses through the windows of Inspector Morse's red Jag, and a bleary drive past many years ago, returning from a Scottish victory at Wembley. So all the predictable prejudices were intact.

What I found, in the cold, clear light of some beautiful late December days, was a pleasant city with remarkable architecture and lots of greenery although, being bereft of students, perhaps my view was a little lacking in reality. Certainly there was a serenity in the closes of the colleges that was most appealing.

In an attempt to come to terms with "the other Oxford", we reverted to type and made the dubious decision to attend Oxford United versus Kidderminster Harriers. In contrast to the courtyards and greens of the university colleges, Oxford's stadium is one of the new-build variety, located by reference to ring roads, roundabouts and DIY warehouses.

For all this modernity, for those of us used to the rigours of the Scottish Premier League, there was a pleasingly old-fashioned atmosphere as folk unwrapped their sandwiches and unscrewed their Thermoses. Never had pies and Bovrils seemed farther away.

The strangeness didn't stop there either. It has to be said that the quality of play was abysmal, and the home team were even worse than the visitors. Whereas in any self-respecting central Scotland location, this would have led to howls of imprecation at everyone and everything, down to and including the groundsman's dog, and a high risk of structural damage to fittings and fitments, all that developed at this game was a kind of mild-mannered low rumbling of discontent.

Eventually in the second half, the man behind us cracked, and, carefully rising, jabbed a well manicured finger in the direction of the pitch and in clear and equable tones stated: "Look! This is totally unacceptable!"

Thus it was that we came to understand, in the unlikely surroundings of the Kassam Stadium, that, in the city of the dreaming spires, town and gown were, ineffably, United!

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