In many ways, Dave Kitson at Oxford made more sense to Dave Kitson than it did to Oxford United. Signed during the First Summer of Austerity, Kitson didn’t fit Ian Lenagan’s vision of a squad of young players with the robustness to last a whole season of League 2 action.
For Kitson, on the otherhand, there was the opportunity to add a couple of years to his dwindling career in an area close to where he lived. He was still being paid an obscene amount of money by Portsmouth although his (alleged) book suggests that, due to excessive spending and some poor financial planning, he wasn’t necessarily as cash-rich as many would have perceived. Above all, in Oxford he had an environment that, to a certain extent, meant that he could still play out his big-time footballer fantasies.
But, as we’ve seen time and again, when once big-time players end up at Oxford there’s usually a good reason for it. The pattern; as seen with the likes of Gilchrist or Duberry, is that you typically get a good first season and a second season blighted by injury as the player finally falls apart. With Kitson, his first season was more like a second season and he didn’t even get to his second season announcing his retirement after a couple of sprints up sand dunes or whatever it is they do for pre-season nowadays.
As fleeting moments of genius go, Kitson barely registered on the Leven Scale. For a period he seemed to be the key to unlocking goals for James Constable who was his willing workhorse up front, but the odd threaded through-ball and masterful take-down aside he generally seemed to dally around the field in vague disgust at the inferiority happening around him.
There was something not quite right about Kitson. Perhaps it was that he was a square peg in a round hole; one of the lads, but the one with all the best stories and the best Ford Mondeo – or whatever it is footballers drive nowadays. Perhaps it was the opaque insight we had into his life and views as The Secret Footballer. Perhaps it was that he did genuinely seem to come across as a footballer like no other in terms of erudition and intelligence.
But, there was something else. His disciplinary record was atrocious; particularly for an experienced player who had played at the top level. It revealed a strangely narcissistic streak where he was prepared to aggressively criticise the officials as the ‘worst ever’ – demonstrating almost a perverse desire to deliberately get into trouble with the authorities. Perhaps he was the only player in League 2 whose comments would register with the FA, and that’s what he liked.
Even more darkly, and perhaps this is just a sign of the times, there was something even more cynical in what he did. He seemed to draw bookings or injuries almost, it appeared, deliberately, as if he just wanted to give himself the week off. Even worse, one particular incident – inexplicably conceding of a penalty against Plymouth – an act so oddly deliberately and his protest so strangely contrived made me, for the first time ever, question a player’s integrity. Perhaps it was just the toll of injuries meant that he just couldn’t do it anymore, perhaps (as suggested in the book) it was his mental state. This seems most likely to me, but perhaps it was something else.
He just never really seemed that committed, in a team that needed direction, experience and a bit of class, he drifted in and out at will. When he was on his game it looked like he was the key to unlocking success, but for much of the time it was like he was just mucking around.
How will Kitson be remembered? Well, he probably won’t, in truth. He’ll be filed alongside people like Colin Todd and Steve Perryman, former Oxford players who will forever be associated with things than us. In the short term he leaves us with a gap in class and just a couple of weeks to fill it – thanks Dave.