It’ll soon be time for Oxblogger’s Absolute State of Oxford United Survey for 2021, but with the season complete and the spoils of war dished out, let’s look back at what you were predicting for us last year and how it turned out.
When asked where we’d finish 56% of you thought we’d end up higher than 6th, so even though we sneaked into the play-offs, most expected more. It’s a different picture when predicting the final table compared to others; in that you thought we’d finish 8th, showing how fierce the competition was. But this meant we were ahead of expectation in that respect.
Hull City were champions, but you had them down as 4th. You predicted that Wigan Athletic would be top, even though they finished 19th. To rectify that terrible prediction; you also said Swindon Town would be anchored to the bottom, but they over-performed to finish 23rd. In a hard fought battle of ineptitude, the wooden spoon went to Bristol Rovers, who you thought would finish 11th.
Charlton Athletic, in seventh, was the only team whose place you predicted accurately. Surprisingly, perhaps, Crewe Alexandra were the team that over-performed nine places ahead of their predicted 21st. Lincoln City’s 5th place was the next biggest, eight places higher than you’d predicted, with a similar performance from Accrington Stanley.
Biggest failures were Wigan, 19 places below where you said they’d finish, next was Bristol Rovers 13 places below their predicted finish.
Cup predictions were pretty grim; in 2019/20 we’d had good runs in both competitions and hopes were high for this season. 66% of you thought we’d go beyond the 2nd round of the League Cup and a whopping 97% thought we’d go beyond the 1st Round in the FA Cup. So, under-performances all round.
Hopes for the season
In terms of more general hopes for the season, the themes produced a mix bag.
The biggest single hope was us achieving promotion, even though, as illustrated above, we were expected to finish outside the play-offs when considering the opposition. So, a failed objective, but perhaps it was an expectation bar that was too high.
The great perennial hope was around the resolution of the now 20 year old stadium situation – new stadium or buying the Kassam – you weren’t fussy. In reality, and understandably, this may have been the quietest year on record in that particular issue. It remains our eternal and elusive hope, could it be resolved next year? Probably not.
More generally, people wanted to see progress; this is a nebulous concept – fans back at the stadium? Promotion? A general feeling of goodwill? More investment? While there isn’t the fervour of last season’s successes, there still seems to be a good vibe around the place and a general enthusiasm for the club. So, we’re probably in a similar place to where we were this time last year and in the circumstances, that’s no bad thing.
A return to normality
What everyone was looking for back in September was a return to normal and we’re still a way from that. There does seem to be some indication that we’re moving in the right direction with fans back at games, albeit in a limited way. The return to normality didn’t just focus on our own situation, there was also a real hope that the financial damage to other clubs wasn’t too deep either. So far, although full recovery is still a long way away, the fact that no clubs have gone bust is, perhaps, a big bonus.
Nine in a row
This season offered the opportunity to turn seven in a row against Swindon into nine. Naturally, that all went up in a puff of smoke. Despite the hope, lots of you were predicting this, just by the law of averages.
Your predictions were wild, varied and mostly misguided, but there were a few gems in there:
The most optimistic prediction was the return of fans by October, so the brief return in December wasn’t miles off even if it was short lived. One prediction was that we wouldn’t see a live game and we were pretty close to that. Someone predicted that crowds wouldn’t top 4000 all year, which was bang on. Many of you were right to predict that away games would be out of the question, but at least the season wasn’t interrupted as some thought it might.
Matty Taylor was predicted to notch 20-30 goals, but fell short by a single goal, Dan Agyei was also predicted to score 15-20 goals, so six was some way off that. Rob Atkinson did emerge as a key talent as some thought he would.
Cameron Brannagan is still with us, when many thought he wouldn’t be, but Marcus Browne’s return in January failed to materialise.
One person predicted that Simon Eastwood would be ousted as our first choice keeper, which was inconceivable at the time, although it has surprised many that he hasn’t moved back north and has, in fact, signed a new contract.
Off the field
You predicted financial chaos across the divisions, which, miraculously, hasn’t yet shown itself. Some thought we’d have a winding up order, which we didn’t, others thought there’d be a cash injection, which, if rumours of a boardroom shake up are anything to go by, could actually be right. You also thought Karl Robinson would leave for the Championship, but he’s still here.
On the field, someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, which, for the first time ever, there wasn’t, nor was there another cup game against Manchester City.
Elsewhere, the season didn’t end with 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs but Lincoln City did turn out to be the dark horses of the division. At the other end, the expectation that relegation would be determined by points deductions didn’t happen.
And finally; there was no red away kit and Jerome Sale didn’t win commentator of the year nor, thankfully, did he swear live on air.
Purely objectively, based on your predictions and hopes, it’s been a disappointing season with general under-achievement all round. Why doesn’t it feel like that? Probably because there was a realisation that after narrowly missing out on promotion in 2019/20, expectations were very high, perhaps too high, as was the competition within the division. In such a volatile environment, standing still could easily be seen as progress in itself.
The end of season’s best hackers table has been released and it turns out that Oxford are the third dirtiest team in the division. So proud. The club have kicked their way to seventy yellow and three red cards this season, which has only been bettered by Northampton Town and Charlton Athletic. Bookie monster, Alex Gorrin was seventh.
KRob has paid tribute to Instagram influencer, Nico Jones, as he leaves the club. ”It’s not the end of the road for him in his career. I think he feels going out playing men’s football and being released is better for him and we felt it was as well.” There’s nothing like a bit of redundancy to make you a man. No doubt, he’ll soon be gracing the greatest theatres of football that the Conference South has to offer.
“Una paloma blancaaaaa” KRob is thinking of his summer holibobs with the lads. Pre-season is up in the air because of the pandemic, but he’s hoping to line up a ‘foreign giant’ to play during the summer, which we can only assume is Gérard Depardieu. “We want to be creative with the pre-season, we want to be better than ever before.” he said, better even than our previous best start of two wins in eight.
Tuesday 1 June 2021
The Sunderland Echo have been trying to come up with ways to show that Permier League Sunderland probably won the division after all. They’ve compared how the League 1 table finished to how it was predicted to finish, Oxford were predicted to finish 5th, but finished 6th.
Rob Atkinson has been named in the PFA League 1 Team of the Year. The team is a veritable who’s that? of players you’ve only vaguely heard about. Atkinson is understandably chuffed; “It’s nice to win awards, quite humbling, and I am very proud to accept it but the goal for all of us was promotion and we will come back looking to go one better and hopefully achieve that next time around.” said the club’s communications team playing with their new Quote-o-matic app.
Everyone loves a good ranking session; so in the final post to celebrate Oxblogger’s 15th anniversary, here is your fifty favourite players from the last 15 years. Rather than write florid tributes to them all, which I’ve done lots of times in the past, here they are with their Oxblogger role of honour from previous ranking and World Cup campaigns.
In the third post to celebrate the Oxblogger’s 15th anniversary, I asked Twitter if they had any questions. Apparently they did, and none of them are ‘who’s your favourite player?’.
I think about Trevor Hebberd every day, but only think about Les Phillips 4 or 5 times a week. Do I need to reevaluate my priorities? @stuartyellow
We can all share this sense of guilt about Les Phillips, but we should never regret how we feel. To quote a meme on Facebook: ‘you be you’. Over the years, though, I have learnt to develop an appreciation for the under-appreciated like Dave Smith and Simon Clist. I like the idea of a player with a family and a mortgage and a limited amount of time to make an impression. It’s easy to slip out of the game, so I can see why, and appreciate, the players who find their nook and stick to it.
Looking beyond players whose loans turned into permanent deals – honorable mentions to Matt Green and Rob Hall on that front – Scott Rendell put in one of the greatest performances I’ve seen in an Oxford shirt against Swindon in 2012. After James Constable was sent off, he was left alone up front and worked himself into the ground, one of the best displays of defending from the front you’ll ever see.
I understand why players like Daniel Boateng don’t work out, they’re just teenagers carrying the brand of a big club and we expect more than they can deliver. Ben Futcher didn’t have that excuse; he had a simple job, with all the attributes and experience to carry it out. I’m not usually one for a pile-on but I found myself leading the charge after his debut.
I have no recollection of Ryan Doble at all, apparently Wilder signed him on loan from Southampton in 2011. I keep forgetting about Wlder’s mid-season crisis of confidence in 2010, when we were scoring goals and leading the table and he decided that James Constable, Jack Midson and Matt Green needed to be replaced by John Grant and Franny Green. It’s funny how that aberration is wiped from your memory given how it turned out.
When do you think the Jefferson Louis Era will begin? @mintygreen2
Like Covid, we’ve got to learn to live with Jefferson Louis’s football career, it’s going to be with us for years to come. In many ways, though, his era began with his goal against Swindon, passed through his live arse-showing on national TV and ended with his brief appearance against Arsenal at Highbury. The rest of his career was just trying to recreate the magic.
My first away day was at Coventry City in 1982, the M40 wasn’t finished so we went cross-country. Every town we passed, the pubs were full of Oxford fans. The drive to Wembley in 1986 was special – Oxford fans all along the M40, minibuses parked on the hard shoulder so fans could have a wazz; we got stuck in traffic at one point and the team coach edged past, flanked by police outriders. Kevin Brock gave me a little wave as they passed, that was pretty good. I once drove from Scotland to see us play Wolves at the Manor and flew from New York to watch us beat Bury in 2002. Oh, and my daughter was born the morning of the Leyton Orient relegation game in 2006, I travelled directly from the hospital to the ground, that was certainly a pretty surreal journey.
You’re having a dinner party and may invite three guests and they have to be a former or current Oxford United player. Who are you bringing? @Joe_Citrone
I’ve heard loads of stories from the 1980s and 1990s so I’d give those eras a miss. The 2000/01 season was the most shambolic in our history, what was going on inside the club has never been explained; so I’d have Steve Anthrobus for that. The Conference promotion season was transformative and Ryan Clarke seems a nice guy, so I’d have him. I’d probably want someone who lived through the Chris Wilder, Michael Appleton and Karl Robinson’s years – so let’s go with Sam Long.
I always thought John Trewick looked most comfortable in his, like he’d probably had it when he was a baby. I prefer the short-lived efforts, where the player has at clearly looked at other people and thought they’d give it a go before losing confidence and shaving it off – Les Robinson’s experiments during the 90s are a good example.
Being alive through Dave Challinor’s throw-in career is one of the privileges of my life, I used to look forward to the spectacle of us trying to defend his arial assaults at The Manor. He’d launch it and the ball would go out of sight because of the low roof on the London Road, you could watch the players panicking as they tried to track it, then it would drop from nowhere at the back post. I’ve got a memory of seeing Mike Ford taking a throw against Swindon in about 92 which showed off the back of his nineties curtains haircut, it shimmered as his head moved. I also have a vivid image of Kevin Brock throwing the ball in early on in the Milk Cup Final, but I’ve just re-watched the first half and he it turns out he didn’t do a single throw-in, every opportunity he passed over to John Trewick. And you thought you’d heard all the stories from the Milk Cup Final.
So much choice. There’s a arthouse film or one man show that could be written about Guy Wittingham’s seven day Oxford career, the inner turmoil of playing for Mike Ford while Steve Claridge tries to entice him back to Fratton Park. it’s somewhere between Being John Malkovich and Brokeback Mountain.
Best thing you’ve found in a football ground toilet @gingermoods
I have a vague recollection of seeing food supplies for the nearby snackbar piled up on the floor of the gents toilets. I can’t remember where, although the geography would work for Wycombe.
What’s your instinctive reaction to a bad reffing decision? Wild arm gesticulation? Bellow obscenities? Mutter under your breath? @jonnybiscuits
Palms up in a with a despairing shrug and an eye roll, it says that ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed’. If he’s made persistent mistakes, I’ll add a look around at fellow fans which says ‘can you believe this guy?’. I figure they get used to hollering abuse. If I can undermine them passive aggressively from 100 yards away when they’re concentrating on something entirely different, then perhaps we’ll get some decisions go our way.
Do you sing, or clap along without singing, or just sit there?@jonnybiscuits
I’m an instinctive singer, I don’t feel obliged to join in. Even on noisy nights in the London Road, it would take a lot for me to burst into song. I partly moved to the South Stand Upper for the peace and quiet (the tipping point was when I realised people around me in the East Stand were dong ‘wet willies’ to each other). It’s a treat when someone misreads the mood in the SSU and shouts ‘sing up, you fuckers’ to 1500 muttering octogenarians. For home games I usually sit and agree with whatever my neighbour’s ill informed opinion happens to be, but in recent years I’ve become much more of a singer for away games, I like that we impose ourselves when we go away. But I can only really do it if the words are easy to remember.
Do you stand up when they do the stand up if you hate Swindon thing? @jonnybiscuits
No, I won’t participate. It’s not the standing up I have a problem with, it’s the sitting down. If standing up shows you hate Swindon, does sitting down mean you love them? It’s a big act of performative aggression to stand up, then there’s inevitably that moment when everyone’s sheepishly thinking ‘Soo, that’ll be that then, we’ll sit down now will we?’.
Do you take food into games? Has it changed since you got older? Bag of Werthers? Flask of Ovaltine? @jonnybiscuits
Football was probably the first place I bought things on my own, my dad would give me some money and I’d queue up. Back at The Manor, when I started going on my without my dad, I’d have a portion of chips and a Bovril, followed by a post-match follow-up bag of chips from the chippy on the parade of shops where the John Menzies was. There was one occasion when was draining the last of the Bovril and a bit lump dropped out and right into the back of my throat. My god, that’s a rush. Over the years I’ve come to realise that I don’t need drinks with nine tablespoons of salt in them. I often have a Yorkie and am appalled at myself that for having a pre-match latte. I want to be one of those people who take a full range of tapas to away games.
What food should they sell at football grounds that they don’t sell at football grounds. @jonnybiscuits
What about a Mongolian wok style thing where you bring a bowl of your own ingredients and they’ll stir fry it for you for £5? I’ve always thought there’s a missed opportunity at The Kassam to create a proper pre-match atmosphere in the car park akin to either German football or American tailgate parties. You could have noodles, tacos, burgers, all sorts. Sadly the British obsession to sell the worst quality food for the highest possible price seems to prevent that.
I’m sure I have, but not a memorable one. I mean, in the main you don’t, do you? You know there’s someone waiting outside, who needs that pressure? I did learn a very important lesson after a game at QPR in 1996. On the way back to the car, I popped into Tesco to buy some chocolate, a bottle of coke, but I also needed some toilet rolls. The lady at the till, paused, looked me in the eye and said “run out did you?”. I learnt that you should never buy toilet rolls in isolation as it sends a message that it’s an emergency purchase and you probably have a dirty bum.
Which Oxford United player past or present do you think would be the most sensuous lover? @eagerterrier
You can pretty much write off everyone from the 1980s and 1990s – they all seem to be permanently in season and would simply rut anything that moved. It’s hard to look beyond George Baldock, you’d just swim in his eyebrows and submit to whatever he wanted you to do. I bet he moisturises as well. I would also also pay good money to have Chey Dunkley shout at me about holding my defensive line. Sheesh, is it getting hot in here?
Have you ever made up a chant and thought it was going to take hold, only for it to be received like a fart in a vinegar bottle? @eagerterrier
I once re-wrote the Spurs FA Cup classic; Ossie’s On His Way To Wembley to Beano’s On His Way To Wembley when we had a run at the EFL Trophy in 2013. I thought it was so funny I stopped the car to craft the tweet. ‘They can’t stop him, he supports Tottenham’ really didn’t work, but I hit send expecting an avalanche of retweets, before it would be sung on the terraces that night. When I got out the car, not a single ‘like’.
I like the origins of the left side/right side of the London Road chant. The fact it refers to a stadium many haven’t seen and to the time they divided the stand with a big fence for crowd control, which, in turn, stems from an unfounded fear that all football fans were violent and unruly savages. It’s fundamentally a slave song, but has taken on a life of its own. Honourable mention also to the Dave Savage chant to the theme tune of Steptoe and Son. It was brilliant because a) it didn’t in any way scan and b) 80% of the people singing it were probably born ten years after it was on TV.
I used to think that the Supporter’s Club wrote terrace songs and fans would attend rehearsals during the week in preparation for Saturday.
In the early days of Oxblogger, there was someone who used to post disparaging comments after every post. He wrote terrible teenage angsty poetry on his own blog which I resisted commenting on because I thought it might make him suicidal, I don’t know where he is now, but I’ve worked out some great comebacks for his insults.
Is there an Oxblogger for another team who you admire? @eagerterrier
Oxblogger was inspired by Arseblog, the Arsenal blog and the style is similar to the cycling blog Inrng. Most blogs don’t last that long, so tend to be good in short bursts. I probably shouldn’t, but I liked the Swindon blog The Washbag, but that seems to have died. I’ve always liked fan-driven stuff; I miss the fact we don’t have a fanzine anymore and I subscribe to When Saturday Comes.
When were you funniest on Twitter? I downloaded all my tweets and realised I peaked around 2012 @eagerterrier
I don’t know about funniest, I was quite proud of my thread comparing Simon Eastwood’s goalkeeping kits to bottles of Radox. There’s a lot that still makes me laugh; Jonny Biscuits referring to an ambulance as a hospital lorry is only improved by the self-owning responses from people who think he’s serious. I still think this is an underrated masterpiece.
If you were a manager/coach; would your touch line outfit be: a) jacket and jeans b) collar and tie (+or- official club bench coat) c) club tracksuit? @Oxrising
I’m not a fan of the ‘primary school dad at a PTA fundraiser’ look which is common nowadays. I quite like it when managers wear a club scarf. I’d keep it old school, it would be a suit and club tie with a big club crest on the jacket. Tracksuits should be only worn by coaches, Ken Fish style.
Why do you hate prawn cocktail crisps so much?! @Oxrising
Look, it’s nothing personal, in our house, it’s accepted that if you reach for a packet of crisps and pick out a prawn cocktail flavour, you’ve pretty much run out of crisps. I thought they were just there as a low-stock warning.
Was the conference experience really ‘good for us’ or just four horrific shit show years in the wilder-ness? @Oxrising
It took four years to realise that it doesn’t matter if you’re a club with a bit of history, it’s today’s team that makes the difference. He wasn’t popular when he said it, but Chris Wilder was right when he said we had to forget winning the Milk Cup and start focusing on getting out of the Conference because the history wouldn’t get us up. It’s an important lesson to learn, but truth is; that could have been an email.
If you couldn’t blog about the Yellows, who or what would you blog about? @AllenSeldon
Twitter is where nuance goes to die, and I’ve always thought I could do a decent politics blog which looked at all sides of an argument. Alternatively, I’m slowly working my way through the takeaway curry menu to see if there’s anything better than a chicken dansak. That journey’s got a blog in it, although I’m 6 months and three curries into my exploration, so it’d be a slow burner.
Thanks to everyone who asked questions, they were, um, more varied than I was expecting. I’ll keep my powder dry on who my favourite player is.
1. Oxblogger has been going for fifteen years, that’s 1,166 posts or 787,927 words. That’s more than War and Peace and just short of the King James Bible. Jeepers.
2. In 2006 the average post had 286 words, this year it’s 1,034, a slight drop from a peak of 1,115 in 2020 which was due to some much longer reads during the pandemic.
3. The first post was about players we’d released after our relegation to the Conference, including Warren Goodhind. Whoever he is.
3. Over that time, we’ve played 778 games, winning 329, drawing 209 and losing 240. We’ve scored 1094 and conceded 872.
4. There have been a total of nine managers, the big three – Chris Wilder (258), Karl Robinson (174) and Michael Appleton (166) make up 77% of the games.
5. Michael Appleton and Chris Wilder both enjoyed win ratios of 45%, Jim Smith 43%, Karl Robinson 41%, Darren Patterson 40%, Pep Clotet 33%, Mickey Lewis and Derek Fazackerley 25% and Gary Waddock 12%.
6. 299 players have started games for the club.
7. Five players have broken the 200 game barrier, Jake Wright has the most with 279 appearances, although if Josh Ruffels signs a new contract, he would pass that figure early next season. Simon Eastwood is fifth with 215 appearances and with a new contract, it’s conceivable that he could go to the top of the list.
Top Five appearances
8. Ryan Clarke is the record FA Cup appearance holder with 18 appearances.
9. Josh Ruffels and Sam Long jointly hold the record number of League Cup appearances with 11.
10. Simon Eastwood has played 21 FA Trophy games.
11. Billy Turley has the record number of FA Trophy games with nine.
12. Matt Day and Yemi Odubade hold the Setanta Shield record appearances with two.
13. Tyler Roberts started six games on loan from West Brom, none of them in the league.
14. George Baldock is our record appearance holder for a loanee who didn’t sign permanently with 36.
15. Two players have won the SCELFF – playing in the Setanta Shield, Conference, EFL Trophy, League Cup, FA Trophy and FA Cup – James Constable and Danny Rose. Yes, it’s a thing.
16. 160 players have scored goals for the club.
17. As you’d expect, James Constable is the record goalscorer by some distance – 106 goals is more than the next two combined; although both James Henry and Matty Taylor are still under contract.
Top five goalscorers
18. James Constable is our record Conference goalscorer with 54, followed by Yemi Odubade (30) and Rob Duffy (27). Odubade is the highest goalscorer never to have played in the Football League in 7th.
19. Excluding the Conference, James Constable is our top league goalscorer with 54 goals, but James Henry is just seven behind.
20. James Constable is our FA Cup record goalscorer with seven.
21. Danny Hylton’s three goals in the League Cup gives him the record.
22. Rob Hall is our record FA Trophy goalscorer with a haul of eight.
23. Jack Midson’s three goals is a record in the FA Trophy.
24. Eddie Hutchinson is our Setanta Shield record holder with one goal, a record that may never be surpassed.
25. With 13 goals, Marcus Browne is the record goalscorer for a loanee who has never signed for permanently.
26. We’ve played 109 different clubs over that 15 year period.
Most played teams
27. We’ve played Wimbledon the most with 24 games, followed by Burton (23), Accrington and Southend (20). Bristol Rovers (19) makes up the top 5.
28. Not counting Under-23 teams there are 12 teams we’ve played once – Bournemouth, Birmingham City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Bristol City, Cardiff City, Grimsby Town, Leeds United, Merstham, Middlesborough, Sheffield Wednesday, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion.
29. Of the players who have played more than 50 games, Kemar Roofe has the best goals per game ratio. He scored in 52% of his games, closely followed by Matty Taylor, who is on 51%.
30. Ten players managed to play more than 50 games without scoring. Excluding the goalkeepers – those players were Dannie Bulman, Jamie Hanson, David Hunt, Joe Skarz, Anthony Tonkin and Jake Wright who managed drew a blank in every one of his 279 games.
31. There have nine league hat-tricks – Rob Duffy, James Constable, Jack Midson, Kemar Roofe, Gavin Whyte and Tariqe Fosu. Tommy Craddock scored four and Conor McAleny has two within weeks of each other. In addition Rob Hall and Kane Hemmings have hat-tricks in the EFL Trophy.
32. In the league era, thirty-seven players have been sent off; James Constable has four sendings off followed by Damian Batt and Jake Wright, who were both sent off twice. Honourable mention to Ahmed Kashi who managed to be sent off twice in just eight starts and four substitute appearances.
33. We’ve played some of the big teams, so obviously the biggest home crowd was 11,963 for our play-off semi-final against Rushden & Diamonds in 2010.
Highest home crowd
Rushden & Diamonds (2010)
34. Our FA Cup trip to Newcastle is the biggest away crowd – 52,221, the biggest away league crowd was 33,394 against Sunderland.
Highest away crowds
35. Of course, that doesn’t account for four trips to Wembley – v York (42,669), Barnsley (59,230) and Coventry City (74,434).
36. There have been a few Twitter World Cups like the World Cup of Strikers which was won by James Constable.
37. Matt Elliott won the World Cup of Central Defenders.
38. World Cup of Away Days was won by Swindon Town in 2017.
39. James Constable won the World Cup of the 2010s.
40. Jake Wright won the World Cup of the first 10 years of Oxblogger.
41. Simon Eastwood won the World Cup of Goalkeepers.
42. Wycombe in 2016 won the World Cup of Kassam Stadium games.
43. Joey Beauchamp was voted the Player of the 1990s.
44. James Constable was voted the Player of the 2000s.
45. Kemar Roofe was voted Player of the 2010s.
46. The tallest player to play for us was Ben Futcher at 2.01 metres tall, five centimetres taller than Elliott Moore in second.
47. The oldest player to play for us was Chris Hargreaves at 38.
48. The youngest was Gaitlin O’Donker – who was 16 when he played against Forest Green in 2020.
Oxblogger is 15 years old this weekend, so in an act of extreme self-indulgence this weekend I’m going to post some stuff about, well, Oxblogger. Blogging about blogging; very meta. First up; where did it all start?
Fifteen years suddenly feels like a long time, so hopefully spending some time writing about myself is justified. The reason for starting Oxblogger in 2006, weeks after we’d been relegated to the Conference, was because I didn’t have an outlet for my thoughts. There was a lot going on at the club – new owners, new managers, years of decline and vitriol, and maybe, maybe the prospect of a blistering, unbeaten run to the Conference title. At least, that was the plan. I wasn’t bothered about having an audience, I just wanted somewhere to reflect.
Oxford Mail had the This is United forum, a precursor to Yellows Forum, but that was too binary; you either hated things or loved them, and there’d be unhelpful groupthink – this player is rubbish, that player is brilliant, Firoz Kassam is rubbish, and on and on. It moved too fast for nuance.
I liked Arseblog, the Arsenal blog which launched in 2002, in 2006 they were at the other end of the spectrum, reaching the Champions League final against Barcelona, Arseblog had tracked the whole journey and covered the final with giddy excitement. Ten days after that, Oxlogger was born.
There was no vision, it wasn’t a showcase of any journalistic talents or some cockamamie business idea; I knew that I didn’t have the attention to detail for match reports, but that was it. It was just free to meander wherever it took me.
At first nobody was interested, readership was low with a trickle of traffic from the ever-wonderful Rage Online, I was pursued by a troll who had his own blog of tortured poetry, but avoided an argument and he eventually disappeared. After a couple of years, Twitter came along and I signed on at @oxtweeter.
I still kick myself that I didn’t give myself the handle @oxblogger. Back then smartphones were in the minority and you texted your tweet to the site. My first tweets were around the Wrexham game towards the end of the 2008/9 season when we were on a breathtaking run to the play-offs. There was a small Oxford United community, lots of tech and media-types, experimenters and early adopters; it wasn’t as incendiary as This is United, it was more irreverent and fun. I shared a link to an illegal stream of our game at Burton and we all watched along together.
The community coagulated around each other; I didn’t routinely promote the blog because it felt a bit of an imposition. When I did, I got more followers and more visitors. The 2009/10 promotion season and Wembley followed; a special day happening in parallel both in the real world and virtually. That success brought more interest, the blog offered another lens through which people could relive their experience. It’s a paradox; when things go badly, it’s easier to write, but less people want to read.
Our eventual return to the Football League put us on a collision course with Swindon Town and our first league meeting in nearly a decade. Shortly after the win at the County Ground I looked at my blog statistics to see nearly 2000 visitors had gone on the site, when I looked later, it was up to 4,000, this was significantly more than I was getting and still get today. When I looked deeper, The Guardian had linked to my post as an illustration of what the Oxford Swindon derby was about.
We settled into League 2 but Chris Wilder couldn’t quite get us over the line and to another promotion. The night he resigned, and then didn’t, I wrote a long piece about him only to find that he was still, technically, in post. Someone tweeted that they were looking forward to seeing what I’d written.
After a couple of bumps, Michael Appleton eventually arrived with Darryl Eales to instigate a revolution. The 2014/15 season was a disaster and I grew tired not only of the blog, but of the club. There was a feeling that we might forever bump around League 2 under a procession of underachieving managers. I began to think about giving up my season ticket, saving some money and only attending bigger games. I decided I’d give it one more season.
After a long hard winter lasting 15 years, the club seemed to suddenly blossom as the 2015/16 season started, fans and club were in simpatico, I had a renewed sense of vigour and a growing readership, I got into a routine writing ‘match wraps’; a sort of non-match report. Everything happened – Wembley, derbies, giant killings and promotion, an onslaught of success, the fans ignited in a frenzy of colour; it begged to be written about, so I did.
The anonymity of the blog was never planned, it’s just that nobody was interested at first, now it’s seen to be a thing. It’s an odd experience, like wanting people to address you by your self-appointed nickname. When confronting with those realities, you realise it’s one thing to dress up as Spiderman, it’s something else to leave the house and insist that everyone calls you it.
I added a ‘Midweek fixture‘ feature to give me a bit of freedom to write about different things that took my interest, usually stupid bits of trivia, like the whereabouts of Damian Batt, or little challenges that get out of hand like trying to find a significant goal for every minute of the game. I started doing reader voted lists, I’m not really interested who wins, it’s mainly because I’m the sort of person who is interested in finding out the club’s 23rd favourite player of the 1990s (which is Andy Melville).
On top of that there’s George Lawrence’s Shorts – named after the tight shorts of our winger from the 1980s, I may be the only person who gets the reference. That was originally a way of getting through the summer with a weekly news round up which is supposed to be vaguely funny. It should be easy, but it’s torture to do. I got to do the Fence End Podcast, BBC Radio Oxford, I wrote for Sky Sports and World Football and even advised a German commentator who’d been assigned our play-off final against Wycombe. Lots of things I’d never have got to do.
At the end of the decade, there was an opportunity to look back; we’d started in the Conference and ended in League 1; we’d been to Wembley 3 times, got promoted twice, won six Swindon derbies and beaten a bunch of Premier League teams – it had produced a pile of memories and I’d managed to capture, at least, some of it in some way. It wasn’t quite Arseblog’s journey to the Champions League final, but it was a journey, which helps me realise that it doesn’t matter how big the world you’re in is, it will always mean something to someone.
It turns out that Oxblogger is a concept album; a creative outlet with a running theme through it; there still isn’t a plan and I do wonder how it might end. But, for now it keeps going, what next? A book? A podcast? Do people really like reading anymore? I quite like the idea of buying a fancy microphone and recording something, but we’re well served in that space with T’Manor and The Fence End, so it’d have to offer something different. These plans tend to take years to come to anything, so don’t hold your breath.
In the end, I just like being part of a little community that buzzes around eleven men in yellow who run around after a bag of wind a couple of times a week. I don’t really acknowledge it enough, but I appreciate every visitor to the site, every like, every retweet and every comment; maybe deep down, that’s all I’m doing it for and it is all a bit indulgent. Even if it is, I genuinely hope it adds just a fraction more joy to those following the club and helps, in its own tiny way, to edge it further in the right direction.