By early 2007, the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club decided to hit Oxford, the furthest north we had ventured for a meeting (except the mainland NISC 5 a sides). There were four Northern Ireland fans based in Oxford, none of whom had actually attended our meeting our even joined our club, and with a bit of publicity we decided to make it a “home” meeting for them and get them all down. This was to be a big attendance with Sean, David, Ernie and another Oxford based member whose name I forgot all saying they would try to make it down. So a quick check of the fixtures revealed that Oxford United would be at home to Cambridge United the very first Saturday in February 2007. We were off to the University Derby!
That was a perfect date for the meeting, being just a few days before the Northern Ireland v. Wales friendly and also the first ever match outside the football league between these two renowned sides, both from University cities. By coincidence there were four potential Northern Ireland ex or current internationals to meet that day, so all was looking good: Jimmy Quinn (Cambridge United manager), Darren Patterson (Oxford United Youth Team Coach), Chris Tardiff (former under 21 international) and Michael Corcoran (another former Northern Ireland youth international), and suddenly the SOENISC year of 2007 was starting in…Oxford.
I had remembered Oxford United FC from the 1980s, when they were in the top flight and indeed won the League Cup at one point (a 3-0 win over QPR if memory serves) and missed out on European Competition due to the ban on English clubs. Now suddenly they found themselves in the conference, and playing against an ex- Division Two (or Championship) side in Cambridge United. My good mate Michael McClelland had studied in Oxford at the popular university for 3 years, and for some reason I had neglected to visit him, though I remember the story Mike once told of him going to watch Oxford United at the Manor Ground and seeing Northern Ireland player Phil Gray in action. Another fellow Northern Irish nutcase, Skin, had also studied at Oxford. Though sadly neither would be there on the day that SOENISC came to city. Oxford United had also in the intervening years moved to The Kassam Stadium, a three stand commercial football stadium, which was barely in Oxford to be honest. More like near a farm in the countryside. I had actually been to the Kassam Stadium before…strangely while living in Bournemouth I once decided to attend a job interview as a PR Officer for Travelodge near Oxford. After the job interview (which I didn’t get, didn’t probably suit, and wouldn’t have meant my destiny lay in the quirky Bite Communications had I of got) I decided to drive to the stadium to have a wee look. It was February 2006, back then, in fact almost exactly a year to the day before the SOENISC invasion of the same stadium. NOt that any of my pointless anecdotes ever add any value to my posts, my memory just oozes these things out of me, so…where was I?
In Dartford to be exact and waiting on a train to central London, where I would catch an excellent (every half an hour) bus service direct from Victoria to Oxford City Centre. I was really looking forward to it, Oxford a city of culture and knowledge.Me in green and of wisdom. I was on my own on that bus and the iPod tunes of Natalie Imbruglia, Manic Street Preachers and Van Morrison sent me north west to Oxford. We had all arranged to meet in a pub called “O’Neills.” That week I had also arranged for the Oxford Star newspaper to send down a journalist and photographer to cover the “story” of our visit. I bigged it up, and the four Oxford based residents were meant to bring the attendance to almost 15. In the end at the meeting time of 11.59 am, there were just THREE of us. This was myself, Graham Anderson and Luke Anderson. Sure enough there was the journalist from the Oxford paper with a proper camera. He said “where is everyone?” “This is it, right now, for now” I said, and then backed myself up by saying “the others are all stuck on a delayed train, which apparently went on fire!” This was true, as Simon and Scatt had been on this unfortunate train around Reading and were delayed. “Oh really” said the photographer/journalist “that’s odd cos that’s the story I’m off to cover and photograph next!” And there we had it, a story doubled, I could envisage the headlines “South of England NISC meeting delayed due to fire on train!” No matter what was to happen, the journalist had it away on his toes, and Graham, Luke and I searched for the first beer…in O’Neill’s as it had just opened.
Within a few minutes Alex “Isle of Wight” Army turned up with Beverley and there were five of us at the start of the meeting, which we then decided to delay until after the match and hold the official meeting at the Kassam Stadium. In the meantime we could relax with beers. Then the call from Sammy G came through and him and Chris had arrived at some other Irish bar nearby at a roundabout. On the way there I checked into our hostel for the night where the loudmouthed Ulstervoice of Squid shouted “Bout ye Jonny!” We checked in to the hostel, while Graham and Luke went to the other Irish pub to meet Sammy G. The meeting place was then changed to this Irish pub, namely the stupidly named “Rosie O’Grady’s” and once in there flegs went up, Caffrey’s was ordered and we tried to ignore the Irish trickler in the background. “Is that a 26 county fleg?” I mused…Then in came the SOENISC mafia of Scatt, Richboy and Simon, fresh from their train fire disaster. Everyone had missed their unique opportunity to appear in the Oxford City Star (or whatever) as my scoop of a wee article had gone abegging. Don’t tell me I don’t try hard with publicity, I’m the PR force behind this club and if we had 10 of us at the 12 noon photoshoot (the time we arranged to meet) then we’d have had yet another local newspaper article and a few idiotic quotes from yours truly. As we sipped Caffreys in Rosie O’Gradys, we realised that two of the guys were driving, meaning only one taxi, which the kitty would pay for anyway, to the ridiculously located Kassam Stadium, home of Oxford United FC.
We got there and parked, barely having time for a pre match pint in the wee bar as we got our tickets, a quick few club photies and a quick check of our wee piece in the match programme, before making our way to our seats for the big match. What a great stadium, and one that is too big to be in the conference in reality. Mind you if the team cannot perform on the pitch then this is what happens in football. We took our seats in the main stand and straight away (as we always do) put our SOENISC club fleg up. Graham and I attached it to two railings in an area with NO fans and NO advertising. Then ridiculously for no reason a steward ast us to take it down! Now holy fuck, but this had happenned the previous year at Ashton Gate, home of Bristol City FC (but we won the argument in the end), but to be told AGAIN and this time in a focking Conference stadium now haul on a minute…!!!! I wasn’t having any of it, would have rather walked out and caused a big fuss, as GUESTS OF OXFORD UNITED FC for the day, we were supporting THEIR team and we weren’t even allowed our club fleg up even for a minute and a wee photy. But wait till ye hear the reason why…it was because we blocked the “number 8.” That’s right, an emergency exit or muster point in the stadium was by the number 8 and we blocked it, even though Graham and I then deliberately sat in front of the number 8 to block it FOR THE WHOLE MATCH. I’d never been so disgusted by that treatment actually, and as chairman of a fairly decent bunch of crazy fun loving individuals, refused to take it down and then even just moved the fleg over a bit. When all that fuss calmed down, we could actually watch the match…
And cheer on Michael Corcoran. Chants began in the SOENISC end, such as “We can’t see the number 8,” “the steward is a wanker (from me only)” and “how do we pronounce yer name? (aimed at our confusion towards Mickey Corcoran name pronunciation)”. The banter was running well and by half time it was 1-1. I cannot remember who scored first. Aaron Reid from Reading had also joined the SOENISC for the day by this point. Even though we were supporting Oxford for the day, I had lost faith in them due to the eejit stewards, so we looked forward to a half time beer and I was very grateful for the assistance of PR guy Chris Williams, who met with us briefly on the day and also arranged the meeting with Jimmy Quinn and Darren Patterson after the match. Half time kitty money was spent on beers and we mingled with an Oxford United FC season ticket holder who was rightly annoyed at the performance and slump in his local football club. From the top tier to non league in 20 years…not good. The second half began and both teams pushed, to no avail. We noticed Jimmy Quinn the Cambridge boss doing quite a lot of shouting by the touchline, and just before the final whistle, Graham and I went down to “introduce ourselves” to him. Waving a scarf and fleg frantically we called “Jimmy!” and the big Belfast man acknowledged us before walking off happy with his team’s point. It finished a 1-1 draw, neither side really deserving a win in my opinion. Graham and I then got the boys and headed to the wee supporters bar which was in underneath the stadium, had no carpet, rather drab grey floor and walls and in honesty wasn’t really a great bar!
But I bumped into Chris Williams the PR guy on the way in and he said “Patto and Quinny will probably pop in and see you.” I was stood at the bar getting a round in when Darren Patterson walked in and met the SOE NISC. What a crackin lad! Darren was greeted with a “Darren Patterson, Da rren Patterson, Darren Patterson.” Darren then turned down a drink , even offered us all one and then went on to speak about al things Ulster, Oxford and SOE NISC! He also said “I just spoke to Jimmy and he’s gonna come out in a wee minute and talk till yousens.” And there he was, big Jimmy Quinn!!! Hero of Romania 1985, and indeed the guy who in front of my very eyes scored a screamer past Packie Bonner. As he walked in we sang, predictably I’m afraid “He’s tall, he’s thin, he looks like Jimmy Quinn, he’s Jimmy Quinn!” He spoke to us for a wee while and then hopped over to the bar. He also wore my hat ( a green hat my Dad had brought me back from Australia) for a photo. While he was away at the bar, talk from Sammy G turned to getting Jimmy Quinn in, spontaneously as SOE NISC honorary club president! What with negotiations of getting my former school mate and hot TV personality Zoe Salmon always uncertain, and with Zoe probably thinking we were all loonies or stalkers, we plunged the question on Jimmy Quinn for the day, asking him if he’d be our club president. He accepted, even shook my hand, gave a few autographs and in a non written way was suddenly our new club President. It was a nice gesture, and then as Jimmy and Darren weaved their way out from us green hallions and into the Oxford night (or indeed the Cambridge United FC bus) we had our proper ‘meeting’ of sorts before more booze and the location of the Angel and Childs pub in town was chosen, as the next pint location for the SOE NISC.
Once assembled in the Angel and Childs (I grabbed a greasey burger on route) we met an Irish lady and also Mrs. Richboy (the rather perky girlfriend of Richboy, Amy Blackmore). There were also some hot young English girls on the next table in this beautiful traditional pub unspoiled by commercialism or branding, it would appear. We enjoyed singing banter with them, and as Swindon fans they knew a few tunes. One of them was Welsh and I nicked their fleg for no reason. By this stage Graham and Luke, plus Sammy G and his son Chris had gone home. Scatt then suggested the wee pub across the road called The Lamb and Fleg might do the trick. We had our club fleg up in pubs all day. In there we met an Oxford student from Newry who was rather religious, but really enjoyed our craic. I don’t think he drank or swore. There were some English rugby fans in there and we enjoyed singing “Swing Low Sweet Northern Ireland” at them. I also started chatting up two young girls, who were about 17 and therefore underage for the bar. Simon spoiled this a wee bit, as did Squid by asking them for ID, soon they had dispersed into the night and my dreams of devirginising were gone for now. Not that I would eh?
As the night got darker, but not much colder we headed back onto the main streets, ending up back somehow in O’Neills which let us in with our Northern Ireland tops on and let us put the fleg up. We also got a lot of guys coming over to say “whats the craic here lads” and “fair play to you!” and then many girls wanted to join in the fun and there was further chance to flirt. Dressed in a green and white wig, I was very much up for the flirting, even if Guinness and Caffreys prevented my brain from understanding what was actually happenning. For some reason we all got lost at that point, and me still with the fleg assumed the lads would be in the Red Bridge Lounge (I think thats what it was called), so I paid a fiver to get in there, got a gin and tonic and looked for green people. Nobody in our club was in sight, so I was alone. I chatted up many and various Oxford girls, whose posh-ness and charm didn’t swamp me in, or perhaps my zaniness was my downfall. I’ll never know and I’ll never want to, as the night got so old, it was the day. Then I headed back to my hostel, only to find that SOENISC member Aaron Reid had nicked my bed and towel. So I kipped on the floor without a cover, there was no other option. I expected Aaron to pay me for that and he never did. I don’t normally keep friends like that, as a rule, so perhaps if Aaron ever reads this he’ll realise that he didn;t even book into the hostel, or book a room there, or tell us he was coming to the meeting, or even staying over. So he should have counted himself lucky to have had a place on the floor. Instead he nicked my bed without apology or money offered. Wise up!
Morning came and Richboy and I enjoyed the old Ulster Fry in the hostel, well without anything Northern Irish. Aaron dispersed into the morning first thing, but me, Simon and Scott ended up going to a wee French bar after a brief coffee breakfast. In that posh French bar we met a young barmaid called Cecilia who was gorgeous. I started singing the Simon and Garfunkel song “Cecilia” to her, how original as she walked past our table of testosterone and three beers. Simon and Scatt left shortly after that, while I decided to miss my bus, get a later one and have another beer with Cecilia. I did ask her out that day and she had a boyfriend sadly. It was a good effort and a great two days in Oxford. I then caught a bus back to London (at no extra cost for a later bus), where I had a few beers at The Atrium Bar on Strand (near Charing Cross), before retiring to Kent for some well needed sleep. That was Oxford, so it was…
Who was there – Jonny Blair, Graham Anderson, Luke Anderson, Squid Armstrong, Scott Gordon, Sammy Gordon, Chris Gordon, Simon McCully, Alex Higgins, Beverley Perrett, Richard Ingram (Richboy), Aaron Reid, Amy Blackmore (+1).
Who we met – Darren Patterson, Jimmy Quinn.
Bars Visited – O’Neill’s, Rosie O’Grady’s, Oxford United FC Bar, Half Time Kassam Stadium Bar, Angel and Childs, The Lamb and Fleg, Red Bridge Lounge (possibly), Cafe Rouge (where Cecilia worked)