THIS week, Oxford United Supporters’ Panel invited Oxblogger to share some thoughts on club culture and community… and legs.

To ease my social awkwardness, I retain little facts to use as ice breakers. Things like the next person you’ll meet will probably have more than the average number of human legs or the oldest football club in the world is Sheffield FC.

While I’m often asked about the legs, nobody has asked that, if Sheffield were the first club, who did they play?

I’m glad you asked; it’s themselves. The Victorians loved to organise things: Charles Darwin organised animals, Sheffield FC organised games of football between ‘marrieds and singles’ or ‘professionals and the rest’, creating a community reaching across social divides.

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Dick, Kerr Ladies, one of the most successful football clubs of all time, were formed by a community of women working at Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory in Preston during the First World War. Games attracted up to 50,000 fans before an FA ban on the women’s game in 1921 starved them of the publicity which brought them world renown.

The point is that football clubs have been communities for longer than they’ve been media brands, businesses or even part of a formally organised sport. While the media spotlight shines on the elite, the unparalleled power of any football club is its ability to nurture social cohesion, inclusivity and break down barriers.

All communities face difficulties; balance, unity and harmony are hard to find and harder to sustain. But, investment in a community is rarely wasted, whether it’s owning, playing, paying, cheering or just keeping an eye on results.

Oxford United is more than just its first team. The club’s academy is investing in young peoples’ physical health, social skills, and their ability to work as a team and dedicate themselves to something. The success of the women’s team, the development of a disability team, a walking football team or The Manor Club for over 50s offer more than just games of football, they offer hope, empowerment and connection.

At the Kassam, I’ve sat next to the same person for 15 years. He’s older than my dad, we’re unlikely to have met in another circumstance, I don’t even know his name and yet, every other week, we spend a couple of hours laughing, talking and moaning, about the game, our families and his health.

That social bond is replicated hundreds and thousands of times across the club’s diverse community, all bonded by a simple football club. Regardless of our results or form, in a divided world, I think that’s worth protecting, investing in and celebrating.

And if you’re wondering about the legs: most people you meet have two, but some have less. Very few have more, so the average number of legs on a human is 1.99999.

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