A Football Fling

349 fling400Could Oxford United really steal the heart of a Manchester City fanatic?
by Steve Mingle
Pitch Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Piers Pennington
From WSC 349 March 2016

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The subtitle of this book – Could Oxford United really steal the heart of a Manchester City fanatic? – poses a question I have been wrestling with for more than 50 years. I looked forward to reading an account of what it felt like to have divided loyalties in a part of your life where devotion is meant to be wholehearted and unequivocal. A fellow sufferer, and the same two teams.

Steve Mingle, a diehard City fan and financial consultant, is joint owner of a company called Isinglass, which won a raffle to become sponsors of Oxford United’s away strip, and the book covers the two seasons of their involvement with the club. Disappointingly much of it comprises brief match details of all the games played by both City and Oxford over this period; of minimal interest to their fans (we already know, thanks) and I suspect of no concern at all to everybody else.

Interspersed with the games we find out more than we need to about Steve’s likes and dislikes; Paris, cricket, darts, tennis and gigs meet with his approval, dinner at Frankie and Benny’s and visits to his mother-in-law in Kirkby Stephen less so.

When Steve watches City he is just one of the crowd, so it is his role with Oxford where you expect some insight. He mixes with club officials, meets players, sits in directors’ boxes around the country but, if he already has this book in mind, shows little inclination to take advantage of his insider access. There are a few nuggets to be found, such as Michael Appleton punching a flipchart without realising there’s a wall behind it, but they’re thinly sprinkled.

These two years were turbulent for the club with three managerial changes and new owners. Steve is taken by surprise by all these events despite being on first-name terms with both the old and the new chairman and seems to accept everything he is told unquestioningly.   

Nor, despite the subtitle, do we get much sense of conflict in Steve’s affections. He almost always chooses to watch City rather than Oxford when their fixtures clash, and often his other commitments mean he misses both their games. We get occasional comparisons, but they tend to be inconsistent – Oxford fans start out being much more tolerant than City of their team’s failures but later they’re to be found booing the players off the pitch two games running. Only on the penultimate page does he finally answer the question (spoiler alert): Oxford have certainly won a place in his heart but will never compete on equal terms.

I am sure some readers will appreciate more than I did Steve’s sense of humour and forthright take-me-as-you-find-me approach. At one point he describes a visit to Gigg Lane where he finds himself bored by the Bloke In Front Of Him “not only the font of all knowledge on Bury Football Club but… everything else as well”. Reading this book can feel like being on the receiving end of something similar.

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