Midweek fixture: Your Oxford United Christmas list

What do you buy the Oxford United who has everything? Here are just a few ideas…

1. Panini Cheapskates print

Panini Cheapskates aka No Score Draws are Oxford based illustrators who came across the genius idea of drawing Panini sticker style portraits of footballers. Last year they did their home town club and absolutely nailed it. The prints are available here.

2. Wang bobble hat

A limited edition bobble hat styled in the classic 1986 Milk Cup Final shirt. The idea has been copied, but this was the original. Still available from Football Bobbles.

3. Hally Ink

Hally Ink is an illustrator, this classic shirts print is a beauty. Also available as t-shirts, coasters and mugs. Buy here.

4. Manor Ground Print

If you prefer your style a little more Art Deco, these Manor Ground prints add a little bit of panache. Available from Matthew J I Wood. There’s also a London Road version.

5. Terrace Life

Terrace have hooked up with the club to put together a range of retro-style merchandise. There’s plenty to choose from, but I particularly like this 1991 away shirt design.

6. Official Merch

Another one from the Terrace range, and a concept nicked from Football Bobbles. This bobble hat is styled on the 1993 shirt.

7. TOFFS

If your style is a bit more 80s retro, try this yellow and navy number from Toffs.

8. Appleberry

Appleberry specialise in university style scarves; another one is yellow and navy available from here.

9. The Boys from up the Hill book

If you haven’t picked up this little gem from the club shop, I suggest you do. Available only from the club shop.

10. Subbuteo print

A nice Subbuteo style nod to the Milk Cup Final win in 1986. Various sizes available from here.

13. Away shirt

It’s not often that official club merchandise is a work of art, but this season’s away shirt is a thing of beauty.

14. Kassam Stadium print

OK, so the Kassam Stadium doesn’t conjure up quite the same lustre as The Manor, but this geometric design would look OK on your bathroom wall. From here.

15. Trevor Hebberd’s Goal

Yet another print, this time depicting Trevor Hebberd’s first goal in the Milk Cup final. Subtle, but nice.

Match wrap: Walsall 0 Oxford United 1

My first proper away game, where I was undeniably part of the away following, was an FA Cup game against Coventry City in 1982. Everything about it felt epic; the M40 wasn’t complete, so we went cross country and it seemed to take hours, we took a huge following having beaten Brighton in the previous round, there was trouble throughout the game which was so bad it was referenced in the Hillsborough report. While we lost 4-0, I loved it.

Standing in a queue for a coffee at Warwick services on Saturday, I became conscious of someone talking behind me. I turned to see a little boy, probably about three, and his dad. The boy was wearing the same Oxford shirt as my daughter and was commenting on it. There’s something I love about services on a Saturday lunchtime, the mix of fans criss-crossing the country to see their team. The little boy was joining the movement, perhaps for the first time. I hope that for him, this all was feeling as epic as my trip to Coventry.

On arriving we found ourselves nestled among the hoodlums and vagabonds of Oxford regulars. Hoods up, glaring menacingly, part excitement and tension, part toxic masculinity.

The world is split into two – those who sit in their allocated seat at an away game, and those who don’t. Behind me was an older couple, South Stand Upper regulars, for sure. They were the former, but that’s what makes an away following; that weird mix of people who wouldn’t normally spend time together.

Then as the warmth of a couple of hours in the car was seeping out and the cold creeping in, I could see the club’s SLO Kath Faulkner purposefully making her way into the stand as a song about James Constable struck up from behind. Eventually I spotted him, Oxford’s number nine. She weaved her way through the fans and deposited one of Oxford greatest players in amongst us; a genuine Oxford legend, about three seats away.

The faces of the regulars behind me, all grim and serious, beamed in awe; they may only have been in single figures when Constable was in his pomp, blasting us back to the Football League. His presence seemed to rekindle the child in them.

There we were; club legends, first timers, old timers, regulars and, well, we’re all irregulars when you stick with a club like ours.

How to judge the current incarnation of the team we’re here to follow? We’re in uncharted water to compare them to most norms of the club. The pace at which we play is bewildering, the results unprecedented, Walsall’s response was to pack everyone together in the hope of withstanding the storm. Despite the crowds of players in the middle of the park, Chris Cadden seemed to hide on the touchline, time and again, he was played down the flank, seemingly unnoticed by the Walsall defence.

Clearly the better team; what was needed was a moment to unlock their massed defence. One wedged pass by James Henry had me yelping at the audacity of it all, there were other moments of trickery which drew gasps.

The minutes ticked on, and though the result wasn’t in doubt, it seemed a question of whether it would be achieved over 90 or 180 minutes. It’s genuinely difficult to see where we’re weak at the moment, the biggest challenge could be our success and the volume of games we face because of it.

Then, in a flash, Chris Cadden finally found a new angle, one that Walsall hadn’t covered, James Henry flashed across and guided the ball into a tiny space between the ‘keeper and post. Like one of those drawings where a new image emerges if you stare at it long enough. Nobody had seen that pattern. 1-0.

The place erupted; it happened so quickly, I didn’t see who’d scored, I turned to see the regulars falling over themselves, and the couple in front of them becoming buried in the melee. The elderly chap was trying to protect his wife who appeared to have fallen over. There was no malice; while some were celebrating wildly, others were trying to give her space to recover.

Momentarily you worry; she could be hurt or even have collapsed, and then she popped up; her hood covering her face. She adjusted it so she could see, revealing a broad grin. She seemed to have enjoyed every moment; that sort of thing doesn’t happen in the South Stand, perhaps it’s why she chose to come in the first place.

And that was that; another win in a tournament whose value is built on its tradition. Old, young, legendary and anonymous all coming together for one purpose. In a world of division, the unifying power of a football club is truly a force for good.

George Lawrences Shorts: Pep-etual emotion

Saturday 23 November 2019

GLS is an aficionado of the game’s finer points; so it wasn’t the four goals that impressed us against Southend on Saturday, it was the build up play. The Southend defence managed to cut themselves to ribbons before playing in Matty Taylor for our first after just 53 seconds. Consistency is the mother of perfection, and they did it again twenty minutes later for James Henry to score. Matty Taylor added a third before Dan Agyei hoovered up the fourth to polish off a 4-0 win.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Southend fans needn’t worry, in Brexit Sol Campbell they’ve got one of the finest minds in football at the wheel. “It’s work in progress and it’s not easy.” said the man who previously said “it’s not like it’s rocket science to run a football club, especially when you get to that level.”

The fans are certainly enjoying Brexit Sol; and have taken to the Southend Echo to sing his praises “Gutless, spineless performance. No fight or passion. Gone beyond embarrassing now.” said one.

Monday 25 November 2019

Old Braveheart himself, Chris Hargreaves has been linked with the vacant Grimsby job. He’s a long-haired lunger from Liverpool Cleethorpes who made millions from signing-on fees having played for nine clubs including two spells with Oxford. After retiring, he wrote the celebrated journal ‘Where’s Your Caravan’ a book about the racial stereotyping of the travelling community.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

There was some proper yellow-on-yellow warfare going down on Tuesday as former Oxford loanee Garry Monk unloaded on his ex-colleague and former Oxford United environmental disaster, PClot, ahead of Birmingham City’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday.  

Monk, who played five games on loan at The Manor in 2000, said of Clotet “You show them [his staff] complete trust and you hope they repay that trust with hard work and loyalty. Sadly not everyone has those values in their character”.

Tough stuff. Of course, there are two sides to every story, so in his defence, PClot had Dwight Tiendelli at full-back. 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The Argentine Alfie Potter, Diego Maradona, has taken to Instagram to praise long ball merchant Peter Leven who has assistant-steered Dynamo Brest to the Belarussian League title. Leven admits that on being offered the job he had to Google the word ‘Brest’. He’d have got away with it if he hadn’t also claimed to have been offered a job at Sweet Ass Bromwich Albion.   

Thursday 28 November 2019

It was the Eight Minute Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with KRob, who managed to keep a straight face when he revealed the club had put in a bid for Chris Cadden, whose loan deal from Columbus Crew was definitely not a cynical move to avoid paying Motherwell development compensation. KRob also suggested that now he’s retired, James Constable could open a coffee shop, he makes a lovely Damian Batt-enberg Cake.

Friday 29 November 2019

Worrying news as Oxford United’s injury crisis deepens ahead of their FA Cup tie against Walsall. 30-goal-a-season peace envoy Kashif Siddiqi looks set to be out for a few weeks. Siddiqi is on loan at East Bengal, a region of India dogged by war and political instability. Apparently the injury was considered fairly mild until he heard their next opponent had a dangerous winger and a striker who was deadly in front of goal, he could feel his hamstring tightening by the second. 

Midweek fixture: FA Cup 2nd Round memories

There’s no such thing as a good FA Cup 2nd Round game; it doesn’t have the anticipation of the 1st Round, nor the prospective glory of the 3rd Round. Although sometimes it’s OK.

2018 Plymouth Argyle 2-1

2018/19 was a difficult season, particularly on the road; we couldn’t buy a win until late in the season. There was a grim inevitability about our trip to Plymouth in November. Or was there?

2013 – Wrexham 2-1

After a delayed 1st Round game at Gateshead, we faced Wrexham just four days later. It looked like we might end up on the end of a giant killing until James Constable sparked a revival.

2012 – Accrington Stanley 3-3

So much more than a game. After it was announced that former Oxford player Mitchell Cole had died from the heart condition, we headed to Accrington Stanley for a tie which just wouldn’t let up. 2-1 down with four minutes to go, 3-2 down 2 minutes into injury time, then Michael Raynes popped up at the back post. A game of pure spirit. Afterwards Chris Wilder was absolutely magnificent.

2002 – Swindon Town 1-0

OK, sometimes the second round can serve up something special. Swindon Town visited the Kassam for the first time in 2003. It was Jefferson Louis who stole the show glancing home the winner. Then he immortalised himself in Oxford folk lore being filmed naked live on TV while celebrating our third round draw with Arsenal.

1995 – Northampton Town 2-0

A couple of weeks after beating Dorchester 9-1 in the first round, Northampton came to The Manor. The win catapulted us forward to a memorable cup run and, in the league, promotion.

Match wrap: Southend United 0 Oxford United 4

For a variety of circumstances, the Wycombe Wanderers game on the 21st December, will be my first home league game in 10 weeks. Although it only works out to be two home games and doesn’t include the Manchester City game, I can’t remember going that long without a visit to the Kassam or The Manor during the season.

To compensate, during that time I’ll have been to three away games; also something I haven’t done for some time either.

Our win on Saturday was 5,908 days since our last beat Southend at Roots Hall. And for the avoidance of doubt that it’s a difficult place to play, the last time we won – a 1-0 win in 2003 – was itself, the first league win at Roots Hall for 4,608 days.

The reason why I think we’ve struggled at Southend is because in many ways, they are similar to us. We’ve had a few higher highs and lower lows, but broadly speaking we’ve both made the lower leagues our home. When you add that Roots Hall is a horrible place to go, and Southend not easy to get to, it gives them the slight advantage that they’ve been able to capitalise on.

But, something has gone seriously wrong at Southend this season. If Bolton hadn’t had their points deduction The Shrimpers would have been eight points adrift at the bottom of the table. While we’re throwing stats around, that’s three points less than we had at the same point during our worst ever season in 2000/01.

You can’t blame it all on Sol Campbell; though his ludicrous arrogance is somehow fitting to the farce they find themselves in. Campbell believed the lower leagues weren’t that hard. I wonder how much more he needs to take to realise just how wrong he is.

We are also transformed – the four goals on Saturday took us to 37 for the season – just three behind the number we’d achieved at the same time during our two championship winning seasons under Jim Smith in 1983/4 and 1984/5. More recently; that’s seven more than at the same point in 2015/16. Don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t a remarkable performance.

What’s more, I went into the game full of confidence that we’d get a comfortable win. Yes, they have been terrible this season, but when has that stopped us screwing up in the past? Yes, it had been 16 years since our last win there, but what have we got to fear now?

A few weeks ago I talked about not being able to reconcile our results with my perception of who we were as a club or even who Karl Robinson is as a manager, but I think I’m there now. It’s been a topsy turvy season in many ways; but I think we’ve found the new normal.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: For Leven’s sake

Saturday 16 November 2019

If you’re an Oxford fan; when the fun stops, don’t stop. There was no game on Saturday, but the draw for the MySpace.com Trophy more than made up for that. Like the FA Cup draw being on BBC prime time TV, this was given all the prestige it deserved; being made during a 2003 re-run of Top Gear on Dave. We play Exeter away.

Elsewhere chisel faced millennium guy Dean Whitehead left his role at Huddersfield to become coach at Shrewsbury, who are managed by chisel faced millennium guy Sam Ricketts.

KRob had no one to talk to, so he talked to the Blood Red Podcast. He talked about coaching Ben ‘Woody’ Woodburn, Trent ‘Trento’ Alexander-Arnold and Deli ‘Delo’ Ali. It’s so difficult to keep track of all his previous charges, if the players KRob coached were his children, he’d give Boris Johnson a run for his money.

Monday 17 November 2019

When he played for Oxford his head wrote cheques his legs couldn’t cash, but that won’t worry Armand Gnadulliet, who is being linked with Derby County and been added to a team of the season in front of a yellow wall of James Henry, Cameron Brannagan and Tariqe Fosu.

Meanwhile, he may look like he’s just been caught smoking behind the music block, but The Mirror has hailed sulky sixth former Rob Dickie as the new Harry Maguire

Tuesday 18 November 2019

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; KRob has asked for a GoPro and a Stretch Armstrong for Christmas, or failing that Matty Taylor. It’s one of three areas he feels need addressing in the January transfer window. 

The claim that Oxford United are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen is a bit of a stretch. But it turns out we do effectively run New Zealand. After the revelation that Ceri Evans is the secret behind the All Blacks miserable semi-final exit in the Rugby World Cup, former Oxford coach Des Buckingham has been talking about taking the footballing Kiwis he’s leading to next year’s Olympics.

Wednesday 19 November 2019

The FA Cup is full of magic, as Walsall and Darlington fought it out for the right to host the Mighty Yellows in the second round. A wave of the wand and slight of hand resulted in all skill and entertainment disappearing in a puff of smoke. In the end Walsall triumphed 1-0.

Elsewhere, a penalty shoot out between Taunton and Truro nearly toppled Oxford’s record after it took thirty-four kicks to settle Southern League Challenge Cup tie.

Thursday 20 November 2019

It was the Six Minute Forty-Six Second Fans Forum with marketing hotrod Matt ‘Kenny’ Everett on Thursday. He answered fans questions in the best possible taste. He announced the intention to have a Student Night in the New Year. The themed game will serve Snakebite for £1, have discounts for dungarees, while a Levellers tribute act will play at half-time. The concern is that with the game kicking off at 7.45pm, it may be a struggle for many of the students to get out of bed in time. 

Friday 21 November 2019

It’s Mark Rawle Day tomorrow as we’re back in action against Southend who are managed by stable genius Sol Campbell. Campbell famously said how easy it is to manage in the lower leagues. His job must be getting easier every week as the Shrimpers plummet down the table.

Meanwhile, Tap-in Tarquin, Peter Leven is on the verge of the Champions League with outsiders Dynamo Brest in Belarus where he now coaches. Leven compares the achievement to Leicester winning the Premier League. Well, we know how much Peter Leven likes a long shot.

Midweek Fixture: Why the Manchester City fixture isn’t ‘the one’

Last week, I wrote about our 1983/4 League Cup run, inspired by this season’s run to the quarter finals. On one level, it’s very similar but in many more ways it’s very different. Admittedly, I was considerably younger, but back then I was very accepting of our wins over Newcastle and Leeds, as though they were both normal. When we drew Manchester United in the fourth round took us to another level of excitement and anticipation.

By comparison, the draw for the quarter-final of this year’s competition has seen us paired against Manchester City. The reaction was, shall we say, more muted.

If you’d ranked the remaining teams in the competition in terms of preference, City would have come far down the list. But, this is a giant of European football, the dominant team in the domestic game, some of the best players in the world. Are we being reasonable treating it with such disdain?

Possibly, having played City last year, it’s difficult to get excited by a re-run particularly as it’s likely to end in a similar result. But, there are few teams in League 1 that have entertained such illustrious hosts and fewer still that have done so this deep into the competition. So, it’s a big team in a big game and let’s face it, we’ve sold out in double quick time, so despite the sniffiness from some quarters, it’s not lacking in interest.

But, even then, it’s not comparable to the thrill of Manchester United in 1983, or Arsenal the following year.

The problem is not so much about the draw or the opponents, but more a reflection of the modern game as it evolves.

The first thing is that the growth of the Premier League and Champions League has resulted in the League Cup becoming so devalued that it struggles for high value sponsors and media interest. Sponsors and TV companies want as much bang for their buck as possible, and with the tournament on the wane, the Football League are not in a strong bargaining position.

The quarter-final draw almost certainly guarantees a semi-final, and final with big teams in it, which in turn ensures big TV audiences. This year’s competition has seen an abnormally high number of tasty match ups – the fourth round had Chelsea v Manchester United, Arsenal v Liverpool and Wolves v Villa. Prior to that there was Nottingham Forest v Derby, Southampton v Portsmouth, Salford v Leeds and MK Dons v Wimbledon. Is the draw fixed? I think there’s every chance that it’s ‘organised’ to ensure that it retains sufficient interest with sponsors and TV.

So, where in the past we’ve been excited by the fate of the draw – which is why we watch two middle aged ex-footballers pulling balls out of a bag on prime time TV – this year it feels a more contrived; as if we’ve been paired with a big team in order to swat us out of the way.

But also, whereas back in 1983 there was a sense that we might win the tie against Manchester United I don’t think anyone realistically thinks this is possible against City. They’re almost unbeatable, and certainly by the likes of us. The chasm is so big that it is no longer a sporting spectacle, but an entertainment product. Like watching WWE wrestling or the Harlem Globetrotters; the result is effectively decided, as consumers, we’re just expected to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I want to be wrong; and if we do find ourselves still in it with twenty minutes to go, I fully expect to be heavily invested in the game. But, as I’m sat here today, would I be disappointed with a defeat? No. Am I looking forward to the game? Not as much as I’m looking forward to a tasty, competitive, top of the table clash with Wycombe Wanderers three days later.

In the past, even the biggest teams could be beaten by lower league teams. Against Premier League teams outside the top six that’s still true as we proved against Swansea and West Ham, but Manchester City, and similarly Liverpool, are now transcending that, we’re all just bit part players in their play. 

For sponsors and TV this is all fine; having big unbeatable teams guarantees slick and beautifully produced ‘product’. It satisfies whatever motivation the owners have for their club as well. But it’s not a sporting competition. Teams like us get in the way, we might produce an upset that stirs the loins, but the chances are we won’t and TV can no longer afford to have a product with that kind of uncertainty.

So what we are now facing is our own infallibility; against West Ham, Millwall and even Sunderland we had a chance, we enjoyed the challenge and celebrated the success. Had we drawn, say, Aston Villa, then we would have been overjoyed because of the prospect of it being a sporting contest. In reality, we’re probably facing a routine elimination, and possibly by a large margin, which is no way to end a story.   

I don’t think any of this is deliberately corrupt; the arranging of the draw or the dominance of Manchester City, but it is corrosive. It’s like casual sexism or using single use plastics – people aren’t doing it to be deliberately damaging – it’s just how things have evolved and it’s not helpful.

There will be those who argue I should just sit back and enjoy it, even if the result is fairly predictable. But, the new Star Wars film opens the following day, and predictable enjoyment is what I expect from that. Perhaps it’s an outdated concept, one lost to the 80s, but with football, I want a sense of raw competition.