Sing When You're Winning: famous football fans reveal their allegiances
“BRRRIIILLIANT! YEAH! FAAAANTASTIC!”
Oxford United have just won a corner.
“Ohhhh that’s good, that’s lovely!” A reasonably good pass reaches its intended recipient “Oh YES YES YES YES YEEEES Noooooooooo!”
Another chance goes begging.
Many flamboyant stars of stage and screen are shy and retiring away from the cameras. Timmy Mallett is not one of them. We’re at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium to watch his beloved U’s play top of the table rivals Aldershot Town in the National Conference Blue Square Premier, and within minutes of meeting our acquaintance, he’s whisked us down the tunnel and onto the pitch for some pre-match frivolity. FourFourTwo can only watch in bewilderment as Mallett – comedy hat, trademark specs and all – wrestles playfully with Olly The Ox, the club mascot, all the while beaming like a sugar-addled toddler.
Whatever you make of such antics, only the most cynical observer would deny that Mallett loves his football, and in these parts the feeling is mutual. The players rightly regard him as the resident court jester, people queue up to have their photos taken, and he exchanges banter with the local media pack. He is, after all, effectively one of their number, since he now does a regular football podcast for the Oxford Mail.
But why does a man who hails from Greater Manchester, where there are several clubs to choose from, follow Oxford United?
“I liked football, but I went as a teenager to see Man U versus Leeds United at Old Trafford, and I didn’t really like, it. The whole atmosphere was too big and intimidating. So that kind of put me off.”
He rediscovered the game as a junior radio reporter with the Oxford Mail in the early 1980s, around the time when Daily Mirror owner Robert Maxwell took over the club, then in the old Third Division. Although the now deceased and disgraced tycoon wasn’t initially popular due to his ill-judged and abortive plans to merge Oxford with Reading as the Thames Valley Royals, back-to-back promotions under Jim Smith in 1984 and 1985 heralded the beginning of Oxford’s golden era, which peaked with them winning the Milk Cup at Wembley in 1986.
“Ever since then I’ve been following them,” says Mallett. “I live not far away, near Maidenhead between Marlow and
Windsor, and I come up to as many home games as I can, usually with my son Billy.”
At 15, Mallett Junior is the prime age to be embarassed by his father’s antics, but he seems completely oblivious. In fact, he’s an even more obsessive fan – clad in an autographed U’s top – if a little more refined. “Stockport United? Who are they?” he says, pointing to a misprint in FourFourTwo’s Season Preview.
That’s enough of your cheek, sunshine.
“He’s been coming since he was about three months old,” explains dad. “We used to put his carry cot in the creche. Actually, when I say creche, it was a corner of the bar in the old Manor Ground, with a couple of young girls looking after the youngsters. But now he’s got the passion for it... hang on... yes... YES? YEEEEES! Greeeeat stuff lads!”
Oxford have forced a corner.
Although Mallett originally made his name on the radio (his Radio Oxford show Timmy on the Tranny won a Sony award), by the late 1980s he was a household name due to his kids’ TV shows Wide Awake Club and its spin off, Wacaday. Needless to say, he was regularly spotted at the Manor Ground. “Yes, there were some choice and entertaining songs about me back in those days. Ha ha!! I won’t repeat them...”
He later had a number one single in 1992 as Bombalurina with Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Polka Dot Bikini, to the chagrin of ‘serious’ music fans everywhere, and even though he has faded from the spotlight considerably since then, he is still regularly recognised, and is the object of great affection at his regular student gigs. Despite his image, which still begs the use of the arcane adjective ‘zany’, he seems perplexed at the suggestion that he doesn’t fit the blokey stereotype of a football fan.
“People are always surprised to see me at games but I don’t know if it’s like that with everyone they recognise off the telly, or because they somehow don’t expect to see someone like me at a football match. But people are generally very nice.”
It’s not all happy clappy positive vibes today though. Like most fans, he can be heard periodically bemoaning the lack of ability and/or commitment among some his on-pitch representatives, especially once they’re 2-0 down by half-time.
“We lack pace. They’ve got to bring Yemi on.”
That’ll be Yemi Odubade, Oxford’s small but speedy Nigerian striker. He’s Mallett’s favourite current player who, it has to be said, injects much needed vim into the home attack. Within 10 minutes of the restart, it’s 2-2, and our host is full of beans once more.
“Yes yes yes Yemmmiiiiiiii!” he cries as his hero bears down on goal. “Must beeee!”
He shoots straight at the keeper.
Along with 5,000 other hardy regulars, Mallett has grown used to disappointment at the Kassam Stadium of late with memories of Oxford’s traumatic relegation out of the Football League proper on the final day of the 2005-2006 season still fresh in the mind (See Quick Questions). “I was distraught, and Linda, my wife, said to me ‘Well why don’t you go and support Reading? They’ve just been promoted to the Premiership!’ So I said to her ‘You just dont’ do that – you change your wife more often than you change your football club! I mean, when she came along to see the game where Billy was a mascot for the day, she brought a book!”
Despite Mrs Mallett’s indifference, Timmy clearly feels at home in the stands. Considering it is one of the few places where you can be as loud and childish and daft as you want to be, this is hardly surprising. And even though slack defending today hands Aldershot a 3-2 victory, our irrepressible hero has the invaluable quality every die-hard football fan needs: eternal optimism.
“That’s the great thing about football,” he beams. “it gets you down for a bit, but tomorrow is another day, anything is possible. That’s what it’s all about...”
The League Cup win. I was working at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester, so I drove down the M6 with my Oxford United scarf flying out of the window – 40,000 Oxford fans driving up the M40 and one driving down the M6! It was a great day, we won 3-0 and but for Heysel we’d have been in Europe.
Relegation from the Football League. Orient had to win to go up, we had to win to stay up. They scored with the last kick of the game. Cheering over there, and this unbelievable empty feeling over here. You just felt ‘Oh God I just want to go away and hide for several weeks until I can remember how to smile again’.
I love Joey Beauchamp. He went to West Ham for a million pounds, and turned up the first day for training and said ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake!’ and eventually ended up back here. We love it when a player has his heart in his hometown club, don’t we?
We remember the ’80s era with great fondness, but we’d rather erase Robert Maxwell from our history. I’d like to think we succeeded in spite of him.
Would you make your kids support Oxford?
I didn’t have to try. He’s always loved it.
From the December 2007 issue.
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