The Radio Oxford phone-in is like crack, you know it’s not good for you, but there’s something that can’t stop you from taking part. On Saturday after the draw against Torquay, Dougie, a regular I think, came on to put his point across. Lenegan was a liar, Dougie said, he lied when he said he couldn’t spend any more on players because of the salary cap. Because Dougie knows better; he could spend more, if he put more money into the club. Which reminded me of the Paul Merton joke about the Olympics; they had to double the budget in order to come in under budget.
Jerome Sale, who is always good in these situations pointed out that the salary cap was in place to prevent clubs from chasing an unrealisable dream. Endless spending puts you in a falsely elevated position; like Portsmouth or Luton. Swindon did it, said Dougie. To which Sale pointed out that the chairman had been removed and they had been placed under a transfer embargo as a result.
Now, the natural law about Oxford United is that the longer any debate goes on, the more heated it gets, the more likely that someone will mention Firoz Kassam. Dougie was on the defensive and blurted out that Lenegan is just another Kassam. All he wanted was the stadium and surrounding land. To which the slightly exasperated Sale responded that Lenegan didn’t own the stadium and the surrounding land. Which makes Lenagan at least one stadium and surrounding land less than Kassam. What he didn’t mention, but could have, is that he’s also largely given up on acquiring it in the short term. If Lenagan’s only interest is the facilities, he’s going a pretty terrible way about it.
Just before Dougie, was an American interloper who has been working in the area and following our fortunes in recent weeks. Despite occasionally sounding like a Floridian life-coach he offered perhaps the most intelligent assessment of us I’ve heard in years. Fans are inconsistent, said The American, fans do the easy bit in celebrating success, but are hysterical when things don’t go our way. It is very difficult to find consistency when one key component is so bloody inconsistent.
Amongst the many things I’ve been thinking about doing with this blog but never get round to is a series on unsung heroes – in which I will make a case for Joe Burnell. It strikes me that we don’t currently have an unsung hero. Inconsistency has blighted us this season on and off the pitch; one of the things unsung heroes offer is a steadying hand. During our last two promotions key to our success has come from an unsung hero. In 2010, Simon Clist regulated the surges of energy that came from Dannie Bulman and Adam Murray and back in 1996 Stuart Massey got the ball down and passed when the temptation was pump the ball up to Paul Moody. There was more thrilling talent elsewhere in the team, but Massey and Clist offered an understated, but essential, contribution to our successes.
On Tuesday, when we flip flopped to defeat against Dagenham a lot of the focus was on our inability to defend corners; and specifically (and probably rightly) the decision to play Raynes over Mullins. But while we dithered, nobody took control and took us back to basics. On Saturday we barely registered a performance in the first half and pounded them in the second. But we needed someone to regulate Peter Leven’s indulgences; which, at the moment, seem to involve waiting for the game to slow down enough for his prodigious talents to flourish.
Similarly, we need someone to regulate Adam Chapman’s complacency. Chapman’s problem is that he doesn’t care. This is a virtue sometimes; during big games he just plays without fear of the consequences, for example; Wembley, Swindon at home and the penalty he scored against Rushden in the Conference when we were going through a particularly scratchy time. Late last season he described his productive relationship with Asa Hall as having a laugh trying stuff out. This is just what we need when the pressure is on. But then, like on Tuesday, sometimes Chapman needs to play percentages to give us some rhythm.
Cox, I think, is supposed to be the one to play this role, but it needs some serious personality to exert influence in the squad that’s needed. He hash’t yet grabbed the midfield as firmly as he needs to.
The obvious candidate for this role is Andy Whing, not exactly unsung, but someone who has improved us, even from his Siberian posting out of the right. If we can get Damian Batt healthy then perhaps Whing can move into the middle to give the creatives something to work off. Of course, continually having to stir the pot is a central theme of our season. In the meantime weeks drift by and we’re still floating around at the foot of the table.
The good news is that every other team seems to be in a similar position regarding inconsistency. Automatic promotion seems beyond us, but it still looks like there’s going to be an almighty shit fight for the play-offs. If we can find our unsung hero, we might just replicate the successes of ’96.