WATCHING Oxford United from behind a screen tonight will be a rare experience for many fans – but for some it is business as usual.

With both legs of the Sky Bet League One play-off semi-final against Portsmouth taking place behind closed doors, thousands of U’s supporters will be forced to follow from their laptops and televisions.

For United exiles across the globe, however, this is a familiar problem.

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The iFollow streaming service, which broadcasts matches live, has been a godsend for supporters like 24-year-old Peter Holt.

The network engineer has watched most games since moving to Cologne in Germany last April, but he feels for those in the UK who will be in his shoes for tonight’s first leg.

“If I was at home I’d be really gutted having to watch it on the telly,” he said.

“I’ve been watching the games this season in the living room and it’s been awesome, but it doesn’t compare to being there.

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“You watch the celebrations and think ‘I wish I was there’.

“It’s weird with no crowd – if we score a last-minute winner it’s not going to be quite the same.”

Oxford Mail:

Peter Holt with friends after Oxford United clinched promotion in 2016

Mr Holt grew up near Chinnor and used to follow the U’s home and away – attending all 62 matches in the 2016/17 season.

The U's fan has not been afraid to show his colours since moving to Germany, even wearing his United shirt for Zoom meetings during lockdown.

He added: “Between 4pm and 6pm on a Saturday afternoon my neighbours probably wonder what’s going on.”

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Also tuning in will be Dave Symmons, who lives in Ardee in the north of Ireland.

The teacher studied at Oxford Brookes University, where his halls of residence overlooked The Manor Ground in Headington.

Mr Symmons, 41, only lived in the city for three years but is a die-hard Yellow – along with his six-year-old son, Oscar.

Oxford Mail:

Six-year-old Oscar Symmons will be watching from Ireland

The dad-of-three will watch both games with friends and family in what has become a well-worn ritual.

He said: “I think Oxford fans now know how I feel most of the time.

“The internet here isn’t great in places, but iFollow has been great.

“It’s rare I get to games, which is a massive pity.

“For me, it’s quite a regular thing watching Oxford on TV.”

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It is a similar tale for Michael Chilcott, who moved to Stockholm from Oxford three years ago.

The U’s fan has not attended a game since the 3-1 win over Milton Keynes Dons on New Year’s Day 2018.

Oxford Mail:

Michael Chilcott follows United from Sweden

He is used to watching from afar, but admits the absence of fans will make it a different viewing experience.

The 34-year-old said: “The lack of crowd is obviously a strange one - I’ve watched some Premier League and Bundesliga games and it’s not quite felt the same without the crowd.

“But given that I’ve got a big stake in this game I think it will still be pretty high tension.”

Mr Chilcott will watch tonight’s game at his apartment, before catching the second leg while on holiday with friends.

Both matches are set to be a communal experience for Rob Mitchell, who moved to Chicago from Blackbird Leys in 2002.

Oxford Mail:

Rob Mitchell will be watching in AJ Hudson's bar in Chicago

The 39-year-old, whose mum still lives 500 yards from the Kassam Stadium, has spread the United message since arriving in America.

His girlfriend Juliann and three step-daughters now take an interest in the U’s, as do fellow punters at his local pub AJ Hudson’s.

Oxford Mail:

Rob Mitchell’s family. From left: Taylor Murphy (step-daughter), Juliann Murphy (girlfriend), Kendall Murphy (step-daughter), Madison Murphy (step-daughter)

Mr Mitchell said: “It’s owned by a British guy and has lots of official supporters’ clubs for English teams.

“I keep joking that it’s the unofficial Oxford United pub – I’m just the only one who goes.

“Sometimes I’ll be wearing my Oxford stuff and a lot of the Americans in there obviously support the big teams, but a lot will ask me about them.”

The first leg falls on a national holiday to mark Independence Day tomorrow, while both matches start before midday in Chicago.

“There could be a decent crowd in there because people are off work,” he said.

“It’s an early start, but that doesn’t bother most people as there’s times when England are playing in the World Cup at 6am over here."

Monday’s game kicks-off when the pub opens at 11am, which presents Mr Mitchell with a minor issue.

He said: “I’ll have to negotiate to come in the side door 15 minutes early – hopefully they’ll let me.”