Oxford United
The Kassam Stadium

Ground No. 216
Visited - Saturday 14th August 2010
Result - Oxford United 1-2 Bury
Competition - npower League Two
Attendance - 7552

When you complete the 92, the question is always… what next? Most people seem to go on and do the Conference, but other than the smaller clubs or those who’ve been relegated, then I actually haven’t been to many Conference grounds, mainly due to the 92 club rule of needing to revisit a ground if the club gets promoted back into the league, and in the case of Oxford, then I’d been putting them off for a number of years with their return to the 92 seeming an inevitability almost as soon as they’d gone down in 2006. Of course it took them a little longer than expected, four years and a Wembley play-off final before they regained what many saw as their rightful place.

It’s funny really, whilst the general assumption by most is that Oxford are a league club, de facto, then they’ve actually got a remarkably short league history, having only been elected in 1962, with the majority of their history being spent as a non-league side.

Formed in 1893, for most of the first half of the twentieth century they played second fiddle to Oxford City, who were the principal club in the area. City’s refusal to go professional was their undoing, and it was United’s post-war foresight that saw them rise to dominance. They turned professional in 1949 and one year later became the first club in the country to install floodlights. In 1960 the club changed their name from Headington United, and after winning the Southern League two years on the trot, were overwhelmingly voted into the Football League by 39 votes, their nearest challengers being Wigan with just 5. Replacing Accrington Stanley, their success was swift, getting promoted in 1965 before winning Division 3 in 1968. The mid-eighties were their best period, reaching the old Division 1 in 1985 under the guidance of Jim Smith who rather oddly resigned not longer after reaching the top flight. It would go against him as well when his new team, QPR, met Oxford in the 1986 League Cup Final, losing 3-0 to his former assistant Maurice Evans, who had taken over from him. Blessed with some great names like John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and later on Dean Saunders, life at the Manor Ground would never be the same again. The club gradually declined through the 90s, and the move to the Kassam Stadium in 2001 coincided with their relegation to Division 3 (League Two), the first time they’d been in the bottom rung since leaving it 36 years earlier. With financial troubles ongoing, and demonstrations against chairman Firoz Kassam then other than a brief promotion push in their second season, life was never easy, eventually falling out of the league in 2006, ironically to be replaced by the reformed Accrington Stanley. 

Aside from being associated with their demise, the move to the Kassam had never been a popular one. Stuck out on the very edge of Oxford, with not a lot around it then it would have helped if the ground was completed, but due to financial issues and falling crowds then it was opened with only three stands built, a reduction of about five from the Manor Ground! The Manor had never been a happy place for Wolves, with the last trip there in August 1998 being the only time we won in 11 attempts. I’d made the journey down there 11 months previously for my one and only visit, which turned into a miserable Sunday afternoon, losing 3-0 and getting wet on the open Cuckoo Lane terrace. The ground could only be described an eclectic mix of stands, that nowadays I’d probably love to visit and enthuse about as one of a dying breed. In truth though, other than the pretty poor away facilities, then I don’t remember a lot about it other than the tight alleyway that led down to the away turnstiles from where the coaches used to park. The whole site has now been swallowed up by a hospital, with nothing remaining to indicate its previous use.

Going back to the Kassam, and compared to the compact nature of the Manor, then it couldn’t be more different. I’d had a sneak preview of it a few months before visiting when heading down there with a friend after staying over in Oxford on the way back from an away game at Pompey. Set in spacious surrounds, the new stands are big and quite smart, particularly the Main Stand with its glass fronted reception area curving out into the car park. A statue of an Ox was added in 2008, although is easy to miss, set away from the ground itself.

Originally I’d planned to re-complete the 92 here in December for when Shrewsbury visited, but camping nearby in Bletchingdon, then I couldn’t resist the short hop into the city to get it done and out of the way. Despite being right on the edge of town, the bus service from the centre is fairly good, leaving the station at half past the hour and taking just over 20 minutes to get there. Unfortunately though, once there then there really isn’t a lot to either do or see, so after a quick walk around, then I went in, choosing to sit with the Bury fans in the away end.

Half of the North Stand is sectioned off for away supporters, where a great view can be had with the stand being quite steep. Single tiered, the East Stand behind the far goal is of similar design, whilst the Main Stand is two-tiered, with executive boxes in the middle. The open end, far from being a let down actually seemed more of a feature, with it interesting to watch the build up of the crowds in the lead-up to kick-off.

Promoted in May, then this was Oxford’s first home game back in the league, and a special edition A4 programme had been made to commemorate the occasion, although they had actually been at home four days earlier in the League Cup where they’d smashed Bristol Rovers 6-1. Unsurprisingly it was an unchanged side that manager Chris Wilder named and as the game got underway they looked like they’d carry on the scoring form when James Constable hit the crossbar on seven minutes. Undeterred, Bury hit back and in an end-to-end match it looked like a goal could come at any time and from either side as they both threw caution to the wind and attacked at full pelt. It was the visitors who took the lead, in the 26th minute when Tom Lees headed home from a free-kick, but it was short lived when five minutes later Jack Midson poked the ball home to make it 1-1 after good work from Constable had found him free and in space. Both keepers were forced into good saves before the half finished as both sides still looked to attack, but there were no further goals prior to the interval.

The weather had been on-off all day, and from a sunny first half, an almost biblical downpour saw fans down the bottom of the stand rush to the top to avoid a soaking as play resumed! From an even first half, the home side seemed to have taken the initiative in the second, and most of the play centred around the Bury penalty area, but try as they might, they couldn’t find a way through, and in the 79th minute, ex-Shrewsbury frontman Ryan Lowe made it 2-1 when Andy Howarth sprinted away on the break, before playing him in, where he had aeons of time to pick his spot with the home defenders still upfield. There was still time for Oxford though, and James Constable came close shortly after with the remaining 11 minutes seeing the visitors under intense pressure from the hosts, but they were able to hold out and come away with a valuable early season three points.

After leaving, I made my way back to town, and on to Bletchingdon with no problems, glad not to have spent the afternoon sheltering under canvas from the rain!

With its open end, and being situated miles from town, then in truth it wasn’t a ground I was really looking forward to visiting beforehand, but once there it really was a lot better than I’d expected. Whilst it might not have the character of the Manor, the three new stands are all good quality, and feel a lot bigger than they are. Whether the fourth stand ever gets built remains to be seen, but even without it then it still rates as a positive addition to the league with good facilities and friendly stewards helping to make it an enjoyable day out.

Welcome to the Kassam Stadium

Rear of the Main Stand

Rear of the East Stand

Rear of the North Stand

Rear of the Western End

The East Stand

The Main Stand

The Western End

League football resumes in Oxfordshire

The East Stand

The Main Stand

The Ox Statue

The Kassam Stadium Panoramic 1

The Kassam Stadium Panoramic 2


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