In the early 1920s a group of Bicester residents formed an organisation to promote a healthier lifestyle for the people of the town through sporting activities. They called themselves the Bicester Sports Association (BSA). Towards the end of that decade, with the aid of donations from residents, they purchased the land off Oxford Road from Major Lewis Coker. The Bicester Sports Ground was born. That is the origin of the ground in a nutshell, for a more in-depth description please visit https://www.saveoxfordroad.co.uk/ and read the full history of Oxford Road.
Parts of the land were sold off in the late 1980s, to Tesco, and in the mid 1990s, to the group behind Bicester Village. The BSA then purchased a large amount of farmland in neighbouring Chesterton, clearly with a view to moving all of the sports facilities out of the town and into the village. All that remains of the original sports ground today are the two rugby pitches and the football ground.
Now, in 2018, even these remaining facilities are under threat. The BSA has plans to sell off the remainder of the land to developers.This cannot be allowed to happen in my eyes. This land was purchased for the people of Bicester. The BSA was created to give better sporting facilities to the people of Bicester, not the people of Chesterton.
When I was at the club it became very apparent that getting people through the turnstiles was a challenge. For a town of over 30,000 residents, getting an average of 50 people (and a good few of those were committee members) in for a 3pm kick-off on Saturday is pretty poor. It was also very difficult to encourage investment from local businesses. This I believe was down to some bad experiences in the past. Which leads me to another point. Whilst my opening few paragraphs would seem to be painting the BSA as the villain in this piece, I completely understand that the football club has not been whiter than white in the distant past either. Having said that, when I was there in 2010-2012 I believe the people at the club were really trying to put the club back on solid ground and, of course, there is now completely new management in place. As I said before, I can't speak for the rugby club, although I have never heard anything untoward mentioned about the way their club is run.
What the football club needs, in my opinion, is to become part of the community and part of the town. Since their reformation a few seasons back, the club has performed well on the field. In fact, if they had their own ground they would be starting next season back in Step 5. However, crowds at Ardley have been lower than they were eight years ago when the team played in the town. The club needs to be within easy reach of the town's population and Oxford Road is the ideal location.
On a smaller scale, Bicester Town's former landlords, Ardley United punch well above their weight when it comes to success versus population. There are fewer than 800 residents but the club is back in Step 5 next season and, percentage-wise, attracts a large proportion of locals through the gates.
Personally, I don't think that it should beyond the wit of man to come up with a solution to the problem in Bicester, keeping the football and rugby clubs firmly in the heart of the community. For instance, why not incorporate the sports facilities into Bicester Village in some way? Spruce up the stadiums and make them part of the Village, part of the shopping experience. I wonder how many West Ham supporters go, as a family, to the new stadium. The football supporters go off the match whilst the members of the group who are not interested stay at the nearby shopping centre? Why couldn't his model be applied at Bicester? Maybe even introduce some kind of loyalty scheme to get people watching the sports teams whilst their family spend an afternoon in Bicester Village?
The grounds could also be used to hold more tournaments and regional cup finals, all sponsored by Bicester Village. Five-a-side competitions for football, maybe rugby sevens at the adjoining club?This could encourage visitors to the area who will, no doubt, spend money in the shopping centre. This may mean making the football pitch an artificial surface, which I am still not 100% in favour of, but that would be a small price to pay for creating a community sports hub. These are just ideas off the top of my head. I am sure there are far more qualified and creative minds out there who could come up with a model that would suit all parties. If only they would get together and discuss it.
I for one would love to see the Oxford Road Sports Grounds stay as they are, a sporting facility for the people of Bicester. I would also dearly love to see Bicester Town Football Club return to their old home ground and become a real local community club.
If you want to read more about Oxford Road Sports Ground or would like to get involved, please take a look at https://www.saveoxfordroad.co.uk/