Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Sunday's Coming: Oxford

Oxford Rugby League club are bit like the Loch Ness Monster. There have been some occasional sightings in your peripheral vision that provide fleeting proof that there is Rugby League life in the city of the Dreaming Spires, but when you focus hard, you get the echo of a ghost of a myth that might not have been there in the first place.

When we first encountered Oxford, Tony Benson was delivering the flat-pack ‘Biffs on a Bus’ model that shipped in a team every two weeks to be poiltely applauded by family and friends.

Then under Tim Rumford we were promised a more substantial foundation in Oxford. But when we played them last year at Hemel, the 26 Hornets fans in attendance out-numbered the home fans, the curious and the Hemel fans with nothing to do that day. All a bit hollow.

This year their will-o’the wisp semi existence has taken a new and interesting twist. Amongst rumours that Oxford persist with training in the North, they’ve upped sticks and moved to Tilsley Park athletics stadium 10 miles south of Oxford in Abingdon. So now their only actual link to Oxford is the embroidery on their club badge. Echoes of Mansfield Marksman and Kent Invicta anyone?

Needless to say, the clutch of RL missionaries in the barren sporting desert that is Oxfordshire have been talking up the move as the foundation on which a sporting power will be built.

CEO Adrian Smith said of the move:  “The sustainability of the club is of paramount importance to the board and the prospects and potential for growth in Abingdon is there to build upon. Tilsley offers a new dynamic for playing and training on the state of the art 4G pitch, which will be great for the squad, while the general all round facilities are more contemporary with great access. The scope to develop and push the club’s progress to another level will be boosted by Tilsley Park. It was an easy decision for the board to take.”

Tilsley Park: Gail and Brian nowhere to be seen

Ryan Cousins, GM of Oxford Rugby League Inspire Foundation is also very excited: “We will be able to make a real home for the club and the foundation at Tilsley and gradually we will build a sense of belonging for fans, staff and players alike. We have plans underway to engage with the community of Abingdon. By that, we mean the local council, local businesses, local schools, the military, community groups….” and so on.

All we need to know is that it’s got a postage stamp of a pitch and one tiny stand from which the view across eight running lanes and the long-jump/triple jump pits sits you a fair distance from the action.

In relation to the pitch dimensions, we thought a bit of a comparison would be a constructive way to pretend to be working at our day job.

The white dotted line on the picture on the left is the over-all perimeter of Oxford’s former Iffley Road pitch determined by the touchlines and the dead ball lines (so including the in-goal areas). Noticeably bigger than Tilsley Park’s field. Indeed, by the time you remove 10 metres for two in-goals, and shave a couple of metres off the edges to accommodate touchlines, you’ve got a total Tilsley Park pitch area that’s marginally more narrow than Iffley road, but much shorter. This is shown by the blue line overlaid on both Tinsley Park and Ifflley Road. As you can see, the maximum playable area including in-goals fits almost exactly within the field of play area at Iffley road - excluding in-goals- with room to spare. Indeed, photos from Oxford’s first game at Tilsley Park v Hunslet suggest an 80m field of play. Handy for 40/20s, though.

Coming up short: View from the stand at Tilsley Park

Since their first season in 2013, Oxford look to have been sliding gradually backwards. Having finished 6th, 8th and 10th respectively in the last three seasons. So far this season, Oxford sit stone-cold last with a none from seven record, having shipped just short of 300 points on the way.

In their first game at Tilsley Park last month, Hunslet ran out 40-14 winners - which looks like standard fare for Oxford this season (but given that Hunslet play on a similarly-configured field at South Leeds Stadium, perhaps it suited their style of play?)

Having started the season with a clutch of narrow defeats (22-30 v Newcastle, 26-16 v Skolars and 38-20 v Scorpions), Keighley’s 70-10 thrashing heralded a run of heavier losses ( including 54-8 at Toulouse and 48-18 last weekend at North Wales).

As Hornets continue to top the table after last week’s comprehensive win over Skolars, it’s imperative that we don’t become the big story in Monday’s League Weakly (other publications are available). Indeed, as Alan Kilshaw pointed out, Oxford are due a win and we have to be absolutely sure it’s not us.

The good news is that - timewise- a trip to Abingdon is on a par with a trip to Whitehaven or Workington. And with the chance to tick off a new ground, make a bit of noise, fly the Hornets banners and have lovely day out, why wouldn’t you go and get behind the lads.

For your SatNav, Tilsley Park is on Dunmore Rd, Abingdon OX14 1PU

Take exit 9 off the M40 and take the 3rd exit off the following roundabout for the A34. Drive 14 miles and take the exit off the A34 signposted for Oxford Road and A4183. At the main road, turn left, following signs for Abingdon. After 1 mile, at the roundabout, take the 3rd exit for Dunmore Road. Finally, travel for another mile and Tilsley Park will be on your right hand side.

Journey time at the time of writing was just shy of the three hour mark.