How Oxford loves its wingers, it’s one of the
unimaginative witterings recurring themes of this blog. If Newcastle love their centre forwards, Arsenal their centre backs, Manchester United their creative midfielders, for Oxford it’s always been about wing play.
Jamie Cook has been part of a great dynasty of wingers at the club. He’s now a returning legend and, by the accounts of our 2-0 win over Ebbsfleet, could be the final piece in an already pretty complete jigsaw puzzle.
Like your first James Bond or Dr Who, your first Oxford winger holds a special place in your heart. I do remember Mark Jones mournfully rubbing his shin in front of the Osler Road Stand once upon a time, but for me, it was Chicken George Lawrence who truly heralded the era in.
George was big, black and instinctive. Under the fabled Manor Ground floodlights his thighs, dripping with Deep Heat, shone like beacons. His shorts, a tight fit for a six year old, struggled to contain him. He was all raw energy. Around him were mercurial ball players; Andy Thomas and, in particular, Kevin Brock who carved out chances. Lawrence was more about shock and awe.
I felt like a mother waving her son off to cub camp when Brock became an England Under-21. I worried he wouldn’t get on with other players and wouldn’t eat right. It was a relief to see him home, but our little secret, that Oxford did wingers like no other, was out.
As Oxford scrambled to maintain the Glory Years, Paul Simpson arrived to thrive in a failing team. Simpson’s arrival heralded a new style of winger at the club. More stocky and dynamic, somewhere in between the extremes of Lawrence and Brock.
From Simpson spawned Joseph Daniel Beauchamp, a local boy with prodigious talent. He didn’t seem capable of surviving without the club, even when the club needed him to leave to survive. His rabbit punching celebration in front of Swindon fans in ’96 summed him up perfectly; brilliant, but stifled. When, later that season, he scored against Blackpool, the world stood still, it literally stood still.
Fleetingly he was joined on the opposite wing by Chrissy Allen whose ego eventually got the better of him. Allen was more a George Lawrence than a Joey. Mark Angel and Paul Powell followed and were more cast in the classic role, Angel was little more than a Joey stand-in and for a period Powell was the best player outside the top division and destined for the England squad.
Jamie Cook took over what was a becoming withering legacy. Right man in the wrong place, like Sam Ricketts, we just didn’t know what we had under our noses. Dean Whitehead and Chris Hackett threatened to maintain the magic; although Whitehead was quickly proven to be more effective in the middle than on the flank and Hackett flattered to deceive.
A whole range of Johnny come-lightlies have tried to reignite the legacy – Courtney Pitt, Craig Nelthorpe, Lewis Haldane and now Alfie Potter have innocently accepted the baton only to find it too hot.
Our demise has coincided with the death of the winger. All the greats eventually move into the middle. Frequently I scream ‘byline’ as someone marauds down a flank only to cut inside to shoot or float over an aimless cross. It just doesn’t seem to be the modern way; perhaps its time to find something new to love.