By the time he got to the Kassam Stadium, Richard Knight had the haunted look of a war veteran. Decorated as the Player of the Year in our last season at The Manor, he hid deep and lasting wounds of the 100+ goals he’d shipped in the process.
In The Grand Fantasy, he was set to dominate the ‘keepers slot in a resurgent Oxford. But the fantasy remained just that; the club didn’t resurge nor did Knight dominate. He lasted one game before being over taken by Ian McCaldon; a man whose most notable contribution was to blast the ball off the arse of an oncoming striker and into the net in a desperate 2-2 draw against York.
Ian Atkins’ arrival brought in the first contender for the Kassam’s All Star XI. Andy Woodman, was a knock-about, happy go lucky lower league journeyman but a man Atkins could trust. The defensive unit at that time was greater than the sum of its parts, but Woodman was a rock of experience on which Atkins could build his briefly successful squad.
Atkins’ acrimonious split from the club saw the arrival of Graham Rix. Rix’s key personality trait was to make utterly bizarre decisions from sleeping with an underage girl to making Paul Wanless play tippy-tappy football – which is perhaps more morally reprehensible. One of his first bizarre decisions was to replace Woodman with first Simon Cox, and then lovely-bloke Time and Relative Dimensions in Football: Chris Tardif.
Rix quickly left, but Tardif remained, he was also Ramon Diaz’s first choice ‘keeper. He was only overtaken when Brian Talbot, a man who spoke as though his tongue was sewn to the roof of his mouth, arrived. Amidst promises of double promotions and a trip to Wembley, Talbot did make one good decision, he brought in Billy Turley.
Turley came with a reputation; banned in 2004 for using cocaine, in typically understated football fan parlance he was branded a ‘crackhead’. All this was part of the Turley brand. Eccentric and brilliant at the same time, no more so than in the Orient and Exeter games; two of the most significant games ever played at the Kassam.
Turley was challenged by Tardif in the way a wasp challenges you for your ice cream. When Jim Smith arrived in late 2005/6, he brought in Andrea Guatelli, but Turley fought back. Nothing that successive managers could throw at him could bring him down. It was only when Chris Wilder brought in Ryan Clarke was Turley’s crown finally taken.
Clarke is a thoroughly modern ‘keeper, athletic and tall as a skyscraper. He’s been as important as James Constable in our resurgence over the last two years. Ironically his biggest mistake was on our biggest day at Wembley, but he also pulled off at least one world class save that day and countless others to get us there in the first place. It’s not easy staying in a Wilder squad, let alone the first team, so being ever-present during 2010/11 is testament to Clarke’s contribution.
But, in the Kassam All-Star XI, the keeper’s spot has to go to Turley. Even in the darkest years he performed, he was the only one who stuck around and actually ‘righted the wrong’. And, there were few more poetic and perfect moments at the Kassam Stadium than his last meaningful contribution to the club.