Midweek fixture – Robin Herd

In his book Them, Jon Ronson interviews extremists from all sides of the political spectrum and concludes that they are bound by the single idea that the world is controlled by a nefarious central entity i.e. ‘Them’. He suggests, however, that there is no ‘Them’ and the world is made up of billions of people making trillions of decisions – some good and many bad and that we muddle through dealing with the consequences of both.

This could describe the legacy of Robin Herd, who died last week, towards Oxford United. Having made his name as an engineer, first working on Concorde, then in Formula 1 racing, he became chairman in 1995 owning 89.2% of the club shares. Oxford educated, he was unusual in that rather than becoming wholly ensconced in the insular world of university life, he became a genuine fan of the club.

At the time we were still reeling from the aftermath of the Maxwell era; clinging to a sheer rock face; somehow holding on, but gradually losing our grip. The best we could hope was to hang on as long as possible, even if the end was both inevitable and catastrophic.

Herd’s arrival injected some enthusiasm and energy into the club that it hadn’t seen for a decade. Having a genuine fan leading the club gave a reassurance it was finally in good hands. He was a charismatic showman, fresh from the glamorous world of Formula 1. He had contacts, in particular the Agnelli family, who owned Juventus. Herd announced a strategic alliance between the two clubs, suggesting that there would be a swapping of talent and ideas, they’d get Matt Murphy, we’d get Alessandro Del Piero. There was even talk of having our second kit styled in Juventus’ black and white stripes. The Italians rapidly played down the link up and it ultimately fizzled to nothing; even Oxford officials described it as ‘talks about talks’.

In 1994, after a decade in the top two divisions, we’d finally lost our footing and dropped to the Third Division; it’s wrong to say Herd stimulated an immediate return to the second tier – that work was already underway even in the year we were relegated with the arrival of Denis Smith. But, time was running out financially; we had a solid core of a squad but it couldn’t be maintained forever. The stability Herd offered gave Smith the opportunity to build on what he had, keeping saleable assets such as Matt Elliot, Phil Gilchrist, Joey Beauchamp, Phil Whitehead and Paul Moody. In 1996, that stability allowed us to survive a poor opening to the season before gaining a head of steam, and a thrilling late season run, which saw us snatching promotion on the last day of the season against Peterborough.

It was a good time for Herd to get involved in football. The Premier League was finding its feet, football was becoming a political asset under New Labour not the societal burden promoted by the ailing Tories. Steve Gibson had started to transform Middlesbrough by building a new stadium, Jack Walker had already made waves at Blackburn; with a bit of ambition, moderate clubs could start making progress in a way it never could before.

Oxford’s search for a new stadium had been going on for over thirty years and nobody had cracked it. Even at the peak of our powers with a rich and unctuous owner in Maxwell, we hadn’t managed to budge the combined forces of the local council and university. Sites and plans came and went, it was Robin Herd who broke the cycle.

The conditions were right; the idea of stimulating economic growth by developing out of town greenfield sites for shopping centres and supermarkets was evolving. Football stadiums became a political lever to allow that to happen. Finally the council crumbled and Herd’s greatest project – a brand new Oxford United stadium at Minchery Farm – was underway.

Things progressed rapidly, a four stand design with a conference centre was adopted with plans to fill in the corners when budget allowed. Iron girders went up and the new ground started to take shape. Then rumours started, contractors weren’t on site, bills hadn’t been paid. The club fell silent, I would drive past from time to time, progress seemed to be slow, but I wanted to believe it was just how these things worked.

According to Herd, he planned to buy up commercial land around the stadium, but when the council blocked him, the money dried up. A Bermudan investor, John Gunn, pulled out after ‘studying the club’s accounts’, though it was also revealed he was being investigated by the DTI regarding the £1.6bn collapse of a finance company. With pressure growing to hand over to someone with the cash to complete the job, Herd conceded defeat.

The contractors, Taylor Woodrow, were gone, Herd’s dream had backfired spectacularly on the club he supported, we had all the same problems as before plus the additional burden of rent on a rotting carcass of a new stadium. The debt was reported to be as high as £18 million.

The blow-back was hideous; Matt Elliot was sold for £1.6 million, Phils Gilchrist and Whitehead went for cut priced deals to Leicester and West Brom, Simon Marsh went to Birmingham. Even as we ran out of playing assets to cash in on, bills and wages weren’t paid and the club descended further, losing £12,000 a week. Then Firoz Kassam appeared to bail Herd and the club out.

If life is a series of decisions, some good, many bad, then judging Robin Herd’s legacy should be judged in that context. He achieved something that nobody else had by securing a new site for a stadium – it drove us to the verge of oblivion and into the hands of an owner who took us to the Conference. But, had we not moved, what would have happened? Perhaps the conditions would have become more favourable and we’d have had a new ground to thrive in, or we could still be at a dilapidated Manor Ground wallowing in the Conference with little prospect of getting out.

Perhaps we needed a fan with an audacious vision to modernise the club; perhaps the blow-up was inevitable but needed. A more objective, rational owner may not have taken the same risk, and not got as far as a result. The brief period of his reign – he left in 1998 – included a famous promotion and the foundations of a new ground, plus a big dose of glamorous lunacy. In isolation, it was as good as it got in the 1990s. The decisions taken after his brief reign shouldn’t cloud what he achieved. Even though the aftermath was painful, Herd’s legacy should be measured more about what he did while he was in charge and less about what impact it ultimately had.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Zebroski’s away goals count trouble

Sunday 2 June 2019

There was a Twitter takeover on Chris Zebroski’s socials this weekend. The Big Zebroski was on loan from Millwall in 2007 contributing a missed penalty in the Conference play-off semi-final defeat to Exeter City. He’ll be expecting more penalties after he met someone called Layla, who got him on his knees (probably). He’ll ‘be begging darling please’ after his wife tweeted from his account a series of incriminating messages between the man she is soon to call her ex and the women she called ‘Ugly Fat C***’ Layla’; which coincidentally was the working title of the Eric Clapton classic whose lyrics are painfully laced throughout this paragraph. Despite her posh quadruple barrelled name, we doubt she’ll ‘ease his worried mind’.

And in other news, Zebroski doesn’t have Twitter anymore.

Monday 3 June 2019

The club used Josh ‘Ruffles’ Ruffels to reveal next season’s home kit; thereby labelling him the player good enough to get game-time next season, but not good enough to be sold before August. According to the Puma marketing drones, the design includes a sublimated flux, which is either the faulty component of the Delorean in Back to the Future or the unintended consequence of consuming a jar full of pickled cucumbers.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

First West Brom now Middlesbrough are reported to be wafting a plate of smoked kippers in an attempt to lure Christophé Wïlldê back into the Championship. Wïlldê is unhappy that off-the-field problems may scupper Sheffield United’s relegation preparations and reports suggest that Boro are desperate to be brought down a bit after a year of Tony Pulis’ special brand of miserablism.

Wednesday 5 June

The club have announced that they’re to play a prestige friendly against Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers. If you’re not familiar with Scottish football, it’s a bit like The Conference, if two of the teams had a massive hang up about 5th century Scottish church reform. The Tax Avoidance Derby also offers an opportunity for entrepreneurial photographers to get KRob and Steven Gerrard pictures, which would make a great ‘before and after’ shot when promoting dangerous weight loss pills on the web.

Thursday 6 June

John Mousinho may be about to follow his dad Jose into management as KRob has told him that he won’t play much next season despite an appearance related contract extension. That’s like doing your marriage vows then leaning across to your beloved and whispering ‘that’s all just a figure of speech, right?’ KRob would like to offer Mousinho the opportunity to become a player-coach, or as he’ll be known ‘a coach’, or to use its technical term; cone management technician.

Friday 9 June

Grab a spatula, this news barrel won’t scrape itself. The club’s Head of Star Jumps Chris Short has signed a new contract for next season. Short, who is as handsome and rugged as Bear Grylls’ arsehole, is credited with improving the team’s fitness leading to a slew of 94th minute winners in the closing weeks of the season. He’ll be working on improving the other 93 when the players get back together in a few weeks.

Saturday 8 June

We’re assuming it was due to the relentless jumping about in silver drainpipes and orange winklepickers, but the Oxford United Jedward Gavin Sykes and Mark Whyte, or whatever, were split up for Northern Ireland’s game against Estonia. Whyte – who Sky reckoned is now worth £4 million – made his first competitive start for the national team in their 2-1 win whereas Sykes didn’t make the bench.

Midweek fixture: Home shirt 2019/2020 – a review

One of the greatest tragedies of the human condition is the realisation that your club’s kit is rarely, if ever, specifically designed for your club. I came to that realisation very late having believed for years that clubs dealt directly with manufacturers to tap into the essence of their existence to inspire a design which would emote to your very soul.

Nope, most football shirts, whether you are playing park or professional football, is simply a manufacturer’s template in a particular colourway with a badge and sponsor sewn on.

The new Oxford home shirt, revealed this week, puts that into greater contrast than ever before. Like countless other teams in the lower leagues, the shirt is manufactured by Puma, and is basically a yellow and blue version of Tranmere’s new shirt, Rotherham’s and, heaven forfend, Swindon’s.

The lower leagues are a good place for Puma to operate; away from the arms race between Adidas and Nike, they enjoy a reputation for being a premium brand without the budget of the big two. You could argue that League 1 is full of once premium brands working at a budget level as well.   

The strategy appears to be to hoover up as many clubs as possible to benefit from the aggregated audience they offer. Making money, however, means keeping costs low, which means there are limited options available and those that exist are universal, uncontroversial and perhaps a little bland.

The other cost saving is in marketing; rather than spend money on carefully crafted marketing whiffle, it is easier to issue a templated descriptions for threadbare club marketing departments to use. But, if you do that you should never use such supercilious wibble as ‘flux pattern sublimated into the shirt’ because that sort of phrase is a honeypot for stretched copywriters; it must mean something.

But does it? The simple answer is no, it is promotional boohockey of the first order. Of the many definitions of flux, the one which even remotely makes sense is not the ‘abnormal discharge of blood’ but a description of something that flows. ‘Sublimate’ is less clear and probably refers to the elevation of something, though perhaps not to a higher social plain as is its true definition. Distilled into something more digestible, it might be better to say there are textured wavy lines in the fabric.

That’s the new shirt’s defining motif; a nod to some of the more imaginative styles developed by Puma as they’ve courted emergent footballing nations from Africa, in particular. As well as the sublimated flux; the shirt has blue sleeves with a thick yellow cuff, similar to the 2016/2017 ‘Starter’ shirt although the overall effect is more towards the 2011/2012 Nike edition.

Thankfully, the club have reverted to blue shorts, which gives everyone hope that the world’s most complex problems can be resolved, along with yellow socks, of which I’ve always been a fan.

All in all, it’s OK, a bit derivative and obviously generic, but ultimately OK. I can see how people will like it, because there’s so little to be offended by. Perhaps my shattered illusions of a kit which is truly ours, plus the regimented annual reveal of yet another new shirt – which is necessarily limited in scope in terms of colour and layout – has made the whole thing less exciting than it once was.

It is what it is; so the club are rightly marketing it as an empty vessel whose meaning is derived from the moments that happen in it. These things only become classics if something memorable happens while wearing them – think promotions, cup or derby wins. Whether this becomes a classic remains to be seen.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts – Hall and notes

Monday 27 May 2019

Sunderland Till I Die was a Netflix smash chronicling The Mackems’ glorious march to Premier League promotion that built, like a classic Hollywood fairytale, to a humiliating relegation. They are now led by former Oxford United saviour Charlie Methven and his doe-eyed cash-puppy Stewart Donald featuring a side-order of Wondertroll Chris Maguire. Filming for series two wrapped at Wembley yesterday with defeat to Charlton in the League 1 play-off final. The producers now face the enviable task of committing to film a redemptive story of how this once great club fell to League 1 and heroically stayed there.

Jonté Angle Smith brushed aside his Oxford United woes with a goal for Bermuda in their Gold Cup warm up game against a team of part-time cleaners from San Miguel Azores. As it happens GLS once scored when playing with a spritely part-time cleaner from Ormskirk after drinking San Miguel in the Azores, but that just resulted in a rather nasty itch.

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Strong and silent type Niall, ‘don’t call me Niall, it’s Neal, just spelt Niall’ McWilliams insists that negotiating for a better stadium deal with Uncle Firoz is not futile. Donning a colander as a helmet and a rusty bin lid as a shield, the veteran of four winding up campaigns will appeal to Uncle F’s special kind of kindness to take a bit of the toxicity out of the relationship.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

The Aylesbury Ashley Young Rob Hall has signed a new one-year contract. Hall has had a wretched couple of years with his football brain writing cheques his knee ligaments won’t cash. KRob is hoping that the witch doctors at the club will have put those woes behind him.

Swansea City are rolling out the big guns in their quest to return to the Premier League. Mr Big Guns himself, in fact. MApp is apparently glaring menacingly at an offer to take over as their manager; look, it’s just his normal face, right?

Thursday 30 May 2019

The original man-bun, Ryan Williams has been called up to the Australian national team. Williams was the break out star of the 2013/14 season on loan from Fulham. If that doesn’t ring any bells then perhaps the words ‘Waddock’ and ‘Animaletes’ will jog your memory. Williams, who was like Ricky Holmes with a more serviceable back, has just left Rotherham, whose relegation has resulted in a call-up for The Digerisoccerdoos’ game against South Korea.

Friday 31 May 2019

The Oxford United Jedward Mark Sykes and Gavin Whyte will be finishing each other’s sentences and doing attention seeking peace signs in Estonia and Belarus after being called up to Northern Ireland’s squad for their Euro 2020 qualifiers. Expect KRob to make a statement about wanting to play them in a kickabout in the park he’s organising for his kids at the same time.

Saturday 1 June 2019

He may have the continental swag of a Shirley Valentine knee trembler, but Premier League sophisticate Chrïstophé Wïldê could be about to return to his alter-ego Chris Wilder. West Brom are considering an audacious move to drag Wilder back to Championship. Apparently he is unhappy with some off-the-field shenanigans at Sheffield United and may be tempted to leave.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts – Dyer’s Traits

Monday 20 May 2019

There’s only one question asked for more often by Oxford United fans than ‘What is Danny Philliskirk up to these days?’ and that is; ‘Who the hell is Danny Philliskirk?’. Well, he played four memorable games on loan from Chelsea for us in 2010 scoring no fewer, and no more, than zero goals. Like Sam Smith, but less prolific. Having largely disappeared off the scene for a while, he resurfaced on Sunday to win the FA Trophy with Fylde against Leyton Orient.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Signing-alert! You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a signing by its shirt sponsor. Or lack thereof. 17-year-old full-back Kevin Berkoe was announced with all the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to expect from a new signing, though his Singha-less shirt reminds us the cheeky scamp is likely to be a Junior Yellow.

The Oxford United Jedward, Gavin Whyte and Mark Sykes, have been called-up to Northern Ireland’s training camp, where they will be kayaking, whittling and welly wanging, THAT’S WELLY WANGING GAV.

Jonte angle Smith could console himself after being released a couple of weeks ago by nabbing a spot in the Bermuda Gold Cup squad.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

God we miss the football season; the goals, the excitement, the winding up orders. The club that’s had more winding ups than Lawrence Vigouroux in a Chris Maguire factory was due in court to face Uncle Firoz over its unpaid debts. Tiger checked down the back of the sofa and found the cash to pay the debt, so the case was dismissed.

In a tactic straight out of Theresa May’s Brexit playbook of doing the same thing repeatedly in the hope of getting a different result, the club will put aside 20 years of animosity and vitriol and return to Firoz Kassam with a proposal for a better relationship. That’ll work won’t it?

More signings, of sorts, crime fighting Aarons; McCreadie and Heap, have signed six month contracts for the Junior Yellows. Nice one Aaron-squared.

If you’re one of those people who thought that Chris Wilder was the new Sam Allardyce, it turns out you’re wrong. Sam Allardyce is the new Sam Allardyce; the grandson of statistically England’s greatest manager has signed for the Junior Yellows.

Star baker Canice Carrol, whose promising career has been dogged by a period on loan at Swindon Town, has been called up to do substitute fist bumps for the Republic of Ireland Under 21s.

Thursday 23 May 2019

Fulham, who were accidentally promoted to the Premier League, but righted that particular wrong last season by being relegated at the earliest opportunity last season will visit The Kassam in July. This is the game in which our new signing will score his fifth goal of pre-season and his last before Christmas.

Friday 24 May 2019

We’ve hit that point in the summer when you need to have a good rummage around George Lawrence’s Shorts to find anything of marginal interest. In Deep State Oxford United, Des Buckingham, one time Oxford United coach is taking New Zealand to the Under-20 World Cup. Meanwhile, Stoke’s Nathan Collins; a prospect as hot as his dad, former Oxford United Dave was forgettable, is wanted by plucky mid-table Premier League Manchester United.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Truth hoover, The Sun, reports that a black man – former Oxford United midfielder Alex Dyer (M’Lord) – has been appointed as Scotland’s black assistant manager alongside white manager Steve Clarke. The paper, who aren’t racist because some of their best friends have friends who work with some people who are black (not black African black, just normal black, almost white, you might say).

They neglect to mention that White Clarke and Black Dyer have just worked together with great success at Kilmarnock, which might have been an influencing factor. Obviously Black Dyer isn’t quoted in the story because he might say some black things; that honour has gone to White Steve and Kilmarnock’s owner White Billy Bowie.

Liveblog: Transfer window – May 2019

Welcome

Ah summer, the gentle caress of the sun on cheek, light summer dresses, birds chirping happily in the trees. Time to freshen up, let air flow through your soul, and renew. Fling those windows open, for light is here to replace the dark!

Except if the window is a transfer window, then a swarm of wasps will consume your head, sting your eyeballs until pustules ravage your eyelids. But, football is dead, long live transfer windows.

So, what can we expect? New contracts for Rob Hall and Curtis Nelson? Freedom for Jon Obika, Jonte Smith and Scott Shearer? Players returning to their clubs to continue their long and winding journey towards an two-year contract at Fleetwood Town? Let us not forget, Fierce Keheller’s mission to play for every Conference South team in the country.

So, welcome to the summer’s transfer window, what a ride it’ll be.  

Tuesday May 7 2019

Are we off to a flyer or what? No. George Waring who Michael Appleton called upon to save us in the JPT Final in 2016 – replacing Callum O’Dowda – has signed a new contract at Chester City.

Wes Thomas has been released by Grimsby Town with a glorious implosion on Instagram. What goes on in the changing room stays in the changing room, except when you’ve been made redundant by voicemail, it seems.

Lee Bradbury, most famous at Oxford United for being dad to The Millennial Julian Alsopp, Harvey, has become manager at Yemi Odubade’s Eastbourne Borough.

Wednesday May 8 2019

The opening days of the transfer window are like the early episodes in a series of Game of Thrones. You have to keep your eye on apparently inconsequential exchanges because they could have a significant impact later on. So, expect Alex Jakubiak – who has gone back to Watford from Bristol Rovers and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts – set to join Macclesfield from Peterborough – to have their manhoods cut off and be incinerated by a dragon some time in mid-August.

Thursday May 9 2019

Sir Dropsalot, Sam Slocombe has been released by Bristol Rovers while former Oxford full-back and general Angry Young Man, James Clarke is in talks for new contract.

Cosmopolitan Premier League sophisticat Chris Wilder has taken a break from smoking Gauloise cigarettes and wearing black roll-neck jumpers, and started ditching players left right and centre. Ricky Holmes who is recovering from a fractured man-bun, the top-man’s top man, Jake Wright and Samir Carruthers have all been put up for sale. Poor old Marvelous Marvin Johnson has been sent back to Middlesbrough where he faces an uncertain future under Tony Pulis, who faces an uncertain future under Steve Gibson.

In the nether regions, Jack Midson and his conjoined twin Sammy Moore have become managers of Hemel Hempstead Town.

Like snipping dangle berries after a week of finding yourself at a vegan yoga retreat, KRob expressed relief at releasing a bunch of hangers’ on – Scott Shearer, Fiarce Keheller, Jon Obika, Charlie Raglan, Jonte Smith are all on their way. Curtis Nelson has been offered a contract he’ll turn down while Rob Hall has also been offered a deal.

Jugged-eared centre-back Michael Raynes has been released Crewe, while the 2016 striker who isn’t Kemar Roofe or Danny Hylton (or George Waring), Jordan Bowery, is in talks for a new contract.

Crawley are in discussion with the world’s oldest man, Dannie Bulman about a contract extension. Presumably negotiations have to work around his nap times and involve shouting into his ear-trumpet.

Bristol Rovers are apparently in discussion with Chris Wilder about signing some of his cast offs, The Bristol Post reporting that Samir Carruthers and Ricky Holmes could be filling The Gas treatment room next season, although presumably that doesn’t rule out Jake Wright either.

Monday 13 May 2019

A speculative piece in the Hull Daily Mail has linked us with goalkeeper Luke Southwood. Quite where he’d fit into the Simon Eastwood/Jack Stephens equation is anyone’s guess unless KRob is preparing his options in the event of an offer coming in for Eastwood. Eastwood? Southwood? Expect us to linked to Tim Westwood soon.

Tuesday 14 May 2019

John Dempster, fabled member of the team which successfully navigated us out of  the Football League in 2006 has been appointed manager of Mansfield Town. While Cheltenham Charlie Raglan has signed for Cheltenham.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Junior Us news, Alex Fisher whose scrawny frame briefly featured for Oxford in the darker of the Conference years has left Yeovil, while Robbie Cundy has gone full Sam Ricketts on us and got himself a two-year contract with Bristol City.

Cundy has been at Bath City, where Ryan Clarke was last season. Clarke’s performances have earned him a year’s extension with the Romans.

Friday 17 May 2019

Following Leeds’ failure in the play-offs there are early rumblings about the future of Kemar Roofe. Roofe has a year left on his contract and was top scorer last season despite a period out with injury. There was speculation that he might move to Newcastle in January but knowing how much Chris Wilder values Michael Appleton’s judgement, Sheffield United may be an obvious destination.

1,2,3,4… Toni Martinez looks set to leave West Ham while pleasantly named Josh Smile has signed for Maidenhead United. Apparently Smile was on our books at some point, though I’m blowed if I can remember him. Jack Payne, Huddersfield’s pocket sized loan specialist has been released as has Tyrone Barnett by Cheltenham.

Sunday 19 May 2019

Callum O’Dowda appears to be on his way out of Bristol City. There’s a familiarity with the story, O’Dowda has a year on his contract and is refusing to sign an extension. With a number of clubs interested, Leeds especially, he’s suddenly gotten himself injured, though not injured enough to miss the Republic of Ireland’s upcoming internationals.

Monday 20 May 2019

In Speculationville, The News, the Portsmouth website have suggested that Curtis Nelson would be a decent signing for Pompey. They admit that Nelson’s main reason for not signing a new contract is because he wants to play in the Championship. The paper fails to acknowledge that Portsmouth don’t meet that criteria.

Alex Dyer ducked and dodged a question about becoming Kilmarnock manager now Steve Clarke has become the Scotland manager.

A tweet from a Torquay journalist suggested we’ve already signed Oxford City’s striker Kabongo Tshimanga.

Defensive hairdo Freddie Grant has joined Maidenhead.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

OK, deep breath; 17-year-old Kevin Bercoe has signed following his release by Wolves. Aarons Heap and McCreadie have signed short contract extensions and Sam ‘not that Sam Allardyce’ Allardyce has come from it’s not clear where. Despite a slew of activity, these appear to be ones for the future.

Manny Agboola, who has been fourth wheel in the goalkeeping department at Oxford has quietly left the club.

And, in Carlton Morris news; one of MApp’s earliest loan signings has signed a contract extension with Norwich while being simultaneously loaned out to Rotherham for the season.

Friday 24 May 2019

If you ever want to use that #oufc Twitter trope of referencing an obscure former player in a joke, then 2008 is a go-to season. A contemporary of Michael Husbands and Levi Reid, Jake Cole, who was signed on loan as cover for Billy Turley, has signed for Maidstone United.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Chelsea have finally decided that Todd Kane, who has had more clubs on loan than Tiger Woods after his luggage got lost on his way to the British Open, isn’t going to make the grade. Hull City are interested.

Talking of child protégées who didn’t quite make it, Josh Ashby has signed for Oxford City.

Tuesday 29 May 2019

Bristol Rovers want Alex Jakubiak back, but that may just be a regurgitation of a previous story.

Former loanee Zeli Ismail who had everything Jordan Graham had – a Wolves contract, but missed one thing – talent, even though he was once tipped to be a £100m player – has been released by Walsall.

Hero of the home derby win over Swindon in 2012, Lee Holmes, has been offered a new deal by Exeter City.

What about Giorgio Rasulo, I hear you ask? He’s been offered a new deal by Mike Ford at Banbury.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Rob Hall has step-overed his way to a new one-year contract. Hall has been injured for the best part of two-years but KRob is ready to take a punt on him. With Curtis Nelson unlikely to sign his new contract, Hall’s signature should signal the start of the next phase of next season’s planning.

Thursday 30 May 2019

Armani Little has signed pre-contract terms with Torquay, whatever that is, while Sam Slocombe is in talks with S****horpe.

Friday 31 May 2019

Ryan Williams who was mentioned in dispatches *waves vaguely at the top of the page* somewhere up there appears to have rejected his contract offer at Rotherham. Meanwhile James Clarke has left Bristol Rovers to make whoopie with Walsall.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Magnetic feels

Monday 13 May 2019

We open the week with an apology; GLS maintains high standards of professionalism and we forgot to mention the escapades of our benchmark professional Daniel Crowley. If you don’t recall, Crowley was a diminutive attacking midfielder who joined us on loan from Arsenal in 2016 – think Jack Payne in Cuban heels. Crowley’s time was cut short due to Michael Appleton’s dark mutterings about his conduct (following a spell at Barnsley, who made dark mutterings about his conduct). His career has been revitalised Jadon Sancho style by moving to Europe – taking his brand of ill discipline to Willem II in the Eredivisie. A couple of weeks ago, Willem II, which is Dutch for Will.I.Am, lost 4-0 to Ajax in the Dutch Cup Final with Crowley coming off the bench for the last half hour.

In other news, lovable Le Petite Boule de Bowling, Alex MacDonald had play-off heartbreak when Mansfield were knocked out by Newport County on penalties. Armani Little – which also describes the only clothes GLS ever finds at Bicester Village – scored in Woking’s play-off final Conference South win; The Millennial Julian Allsopp, Harvey Bradbury, was a late substitute.

Tuesday 14 May 2019

As they say in Game of Thrones; The North Remembers, unfortunately the south forgets. In the hullabaloo about new contracts and released players last week, the name T’ony McMahon was completely overlooked. The whippet worrying full-back remains on our books despite spending a good chunk of the year on loan at Scunthorpe who he helped steer to a comfortable relegation spot last season. KRob doesn’t expect him to return south next year; he doesn’t want to take a “bad signing and make it into a good signing.”; applying his trademark bewildering logic. Some would argue he spent a decent part of last season achieving the exact opposite. Not us, though, not us.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Exotic foreign coach Chrïstophé Wïldé has beaten Pep Guardiola and other Johnny Foreigners to become the LMA Manager of the Year. The Brexiteers’ choice is responsible for the Oxford careers of legends Tom Newey and Ben Futcher; the award is recognition for Wïldé’s journey from non-league to the Premier League via the second best footballing team in League 2. He says his success won’t change him, although we understand that he’s already started buying Carte Noir coffee and is shopping for some of the more premium brands in Home Bargains.

There was an assistant manager glare-fest at The Hawthorns on Tuesday as John Terry and Michael Appleton faced each other down in their play-off semi-final. Villa sneaked through on penalties, although everyone agreed West Brom took the better footballing spot kicks.

Thursday 16 May 2019

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; so we can say with a degree of confidence that nobody killed Robbie Cundy during his time at the Kassam. With his career solidly rooted in a single Oxford United appearance against Dagenham and Redbridge in the JPT in 2015, Cundy dropped out of the Football League in 2017 eventually joining Bath City. As a result of his performances as The Romans’ Jake Wright to their Ryan Clarke, who also happens to be the actual Ryan Clarke, Bristol City have signed him up on a two-year contract.

The curse of the play-off semi-finals continue. After Alex MacDonald on Sunday, MApp on Tuesday, The Roofe was not on fire on Wednesday as Kemar sat in the stands watching Leeds get mauled by Derby in their play-off semi-final second leg. Chris Maguire is up tonight in Sunderland v Portsmouth. Uh oh.

Friday 17 May 2019

Johnny Mullins has retired. Mullins was part of the promotion winning team of 2016 before leaving for Luton Town. He was at Cheltenham Town last season, but has chosen to jack it all in. Mullins was known as as The Magnet because he twice scored from a corner in 127 games. At approximately 5 corners a game, that’s a magnetism of 0.2%. Coincidentally, he also has an excellent, if slightly pricey range of kitchens.

Trolly is on his way to Wembley – Charlie Methven’s Sunderland featuring Chris Maguire drew 0-0 with Portsmouth last night sending the Mackems through to face Charlton.

KRob has spoken. Let’s face it this is not an unusual thing, he seems to have spoken continuously since the end of the season. So much so that it’s possible he’s still standing pitchside at Kenilworth Road speaking to an increasingly weary Nathan Cooper. That’s probably not true, although it’s exactly the kind of thing he’d do, isn’t it? His latest ejaculation focuses on his wish list for next season. Nothing remarkable about the list, although he did mention that he was hoping to bring back Wonderfoot Luke Garbutt and ban-magnet Ahmed Kashi and the sloth in the box, Jerome Sinclair.

Saturday 18 May 2019

It’s the day that the whole nation stops, gathers together around the TV set and watches a great annual institution play out in front of them. As well as Eurovision, it’s also the FA Cup final. It’s Watford’s first appearance since 1984 when they were captained by former Oxford United player and now Youth Team Officer Les Taylor. You can read him banging on about it like your drunk uncle here.

Back in the future, Leeds’ capitulation against Derby as raised question about Kemar Roofe. With a year on his contract, speculation is that he’ll be snapped up by a Premier League club this summer. Wait, who’s the cat in the beret with Yvette Carte-Blanche from Allo Allo on his arm? It’s only remodelled bon vivant Chrïstophé Wïldé. He wouldn’t would he?

Sunday 19 May 2019

Our week closes with the news that conscientious objector Callum O’Dowda has joined us the the Republic of Ireland squad. Nothing unusual about that except he hasn’t played for Bristol City since March due to a mystery injury. Always a highly principled young man, O’Dowda and his medical team have searched for a diagnosis. It appears that it could be suffering from a broken contract resulting from an inflated ego with a number of Championship and Premier League teams interested in his signature. All very treatable if you apply a great pile of money to it.

Midweek fixture: 2010 play-off winners – where are they now?

Ryan Clarke

A goalkeeper who saved his team more times than any other player is ironically most well known for dropping the ball into his own net with the score at 2-0. Clarke went on to play more than 200 times for the club before moving to Northampton Town. His career stalled a bit and he failed to make a single appearance, later admitting to depression. After a brief spell at Wimbledon he moved to Eastleigh and Torquay and is currently at Bath City.

Damian Batt

A full-back with pace and a prodigious engine, Batt played on for three more years before briefly claiming a move to Vancouver Whitecaps. It came to nothing and he announced his retirement allowing him to focus on his business Alexander Du’Bel. He made a brief return at Eastleigh and then Dagenham and Redbridge before fully retiring in 2015. In 2017, the Telegraph raised a series of concerns about his dubious claims to be raising money for charity.

Mark Creighton

The Beast who kick started the season with a last minute winner over York was a wall of a central defender. Almost as soon as the following season started Creighton was loaned out to Wrexham, before moving to Kidderminster Harriers permanently. After two years he retired due to injury and set up his tattoo business Raw Ink Studios.

Jake Wright

Signed midway through the season to replace Luke Foster, Wright evolved into a formidable centre-back and leader. Wright steered the club through the League 2 years and into the Appleton era where he captained the team to promotion in 2016. He signed for Sheffield United, rejoining Chris Wilder during that summer and promptly won promotion with them to The Championship.

Anthony Tonkin

A sanguine full-back signed in the January before the play-off final. Tonkin drifted out of the team after promotion, but had a moment in the sun against Swindon Town. In 2012 he moved to Aldershot Town before moving onto Frome Town. A business graduate, he had a sideline as a property developer during his playing days. He became a Financial Advisor on retiring before becoming a Quantity Surveyor.

Dannie Bulman

Bulman was signed at the start of the promotion season after leaving Crawley Town. He had already played over 350 games for Wycombe, Stevenage and Crawley. Bulman was quickly moved on back to Crawley following promotion; Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake. After that he moves to Wimbledon where he was the Football League’s oldest player in 2018. Currently back at Crawley.

Adam Chapman

Signed from Sheffield United, Chapman took over from the injured Adam Murray as the creative force in midfield. Immediately before the final it was announced that Chapman was set to stand trial for killing someone in car accident. He was convicted and spent a year away in a young offenders institute. He returned and played spasmodically before moving on, at one playing a game against Wycombe with a burnt his nipple from baby milk. He now plays for Sheffield FC.

Simon Clist

An invaluable water-carrier in the middle of midfield. Clist became our unlikely first goalscorer on our return to the Football League. In 2012 Clist moved to Hereford on loan and then permanently. The trail runs cold at this point, although he reappeared as guest of honour at the club in 2018.

Jack Midson

A player with a deft touch and great poise; Midson was another player who undeservedly was moved out of the club by Chris Wilder following promotion. He eventually settled with Wimbledon, taking them back to the Football League and having the honour of scoring against the Dons’ nemesis MK Dons. Following a number of moves he became assistant manager at Concord Rangers. He’s also a director of M&M Sports Coaching with his team mate Sammy Moore. Recently appointed manager at Hemel Hempstead Town.

James Constable

A bona fide club legend. Constable scored over 100 goals and just one short of the club’s goalscoring record left for Eastleigh. After four years he moved to Poole Town one loan, recently announcing his semi-retirement and became a patron of Oxford United in the Community. Left Eastleigh permanently in May 2019.

Matt Green

A peculiar career which started at Cardiff, he had a brief loan spell at Oxford before controversially moving to Torquay. He came back in 2010 and became part of a formidable three pronged attack. Another player who was moved on a little too quickly, in 2013 he scored a bucketload at Mansfield earning him a move to The Championship and Birmingham City. Injury stalled his career and he moved back to Mansfield before moving to Lincoln and Salford.

Subs:

Billy Turley

A character and a dying breed, Turley lost his place to Ryan Clarke at the beginning of the season. He was released immediately after the final before spending some time at Brackley Town.

Kevin Sandwith

An early Chris Wilder Signing, he lost his place to Anthony Tonkin at Christmas. Released after the final he went to Mansfield before drifting around the non-league and disappearing.

Alfie Potter

Potter came on to score the iconic third goal at Wembley. He played on until 2015 enjoying moments in the sun such as a winner over Swindon and a leading part in a 4-1 win over Portsmouth. Joined Chris Wilder at Northampton in 2015 before moving to Mansfield and Billericay Town.

Rhys Day

Day came on with three minutes to go and won the header which set up the breakaway for the third goal. Another player who played briefly for Mansfield before popping up at Hyde. Currently an Operations Manager in Manchester.

Sam Deering

A diminutive forward who set up Alfie Potter for the third goal. Deering drifted in and out of the team until 2011 before moving to Barnet. Enjoyed an FA Cup giant killing with Whitehawk before ending up at Billericay.

Manager: Chris Wilder

Battled on with the club until everyone forgot what a remarkable job he had done. Left acrimoniously in 2014 for Northampton who were, at the time, bottom of League 2. He saved them by beating us on the last game of the season. He followed it up by winning the title while we came second. Shortly after, he moved to Sheffield United where he won promotion to the Championship and then, in 2019, The Premier League.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Xemi-final heartache

Monday 6 May

KRob will need a bit of a sit down after his trip to Luton at the epic conclusion of this season’s blockbuster saga we call: Shambles: Endgame. Shod of his patent black puffa jacket, a fashion statement not seen since Kevin and Perry Go Large, he was quick to condemn Luton fans who celebrated their promotion on Saturday by slinging a smoke bomb into the Oxford end. KRob, ever one to set a good example, would have preferred them to follow his lead on how to conduct oneself during a promotion party by simply smacking someone in the chops.

Tuesday 7 May

Luton Town striker George Moncur apologised for taunting Oxford fans after scoring his team’s first goal on Saturday. Moncur magnanimously acknowledged that the Oxford fans doing nothing wrong, had done nothing wrong. His apology rang somewhat hollow when admitting he just can’t help himself in that ‘Oops! I did it again’ way Britney Spears did when coquettishly describing how she accidentally keeps dressing as a dirty old man’s wet dream.

Meanwhile, if we ever needed a reminder that we’re no longer in the era of John Durnin and Billy Whitehurst, in ‘I beg your pardon?’ news, the club tweeted its collective allegiance to King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand. The newly coronated king recently announced that his security detail would become his new queen; we look forward to Tiger persuading the consort to take the Kassam Stadium into her portfolio and allow The Yellow Ultras banners back into the East Stand.

Wednesday 8 May

Like Cheers or The Simpsons, Oxford United have launched a spin-off show which threatens to be funnier than the original. The latest episode of the new show – The Oxford United Board – aired yesterday following the successful pilot episode; Whose Tax Bill Is It Anyway? and yesterday’s season opener The King and I.

This episode, entitled Filthy Rich and Cat Flap, focussed on the new board, and went something along the lines of something something great fans, something something great city, hey, why not watch this video about how eye wateringly rich Anindya Bakrie is. Classic.

Thursday 9 May

It’s happened! Transfer Christmas! Yes, it’s the day clubs announce, in the most public way possible, which players they’re making redundant. Alan Shearer’s brother Scott, spellcheck’s Fiarce Kelleher, Donegal’s finest Jon O’Bika, Cheltenham Charlie Raglan, Jonte ‘angle’ Smith have all been given the old heave-ho by KRob. They all leave with our best wishes for the… yeah whatever.

Curtis Nelson and The Aylesbury Ashley Young, Rob Hall, have been offered new contracts, Jose’s son, John Mousinho and Son of God, Jack Stephens have had their sentences, sorry, contracts, extended.

Friday 10 May

Like the time GLS ate that four day old paella, Oxford United endured an unfortunate Spanish incident a couple of years ago when it hired Pep Clotet as manager. It all passed in a blur of Dwight Tiendellis, but one little Spanish aberration has been largely forgotten.

For a short while, Xemi Hernandez was going to be our Lionel Messi, but after becoming hacked off by those uniquely British affectations like running and tackling, he ended up back home at Lleida in the Spanish 3rd division. On Tuesday, he decided to bunk off work to see the aforementioned Messi spend 90 minutes looking bewildered in Anfield during Liverpool’s epic comeback in the Champions League. His indiscretion was rumbled when he was seen on TV, resulting in a fine from his promotion seeking club.

Back home, there is no more evocative fixture in our history than Oxford United versus QPR. Yes, the game that’s best known as being the Peter Hucker derby will be re-run as a friendly in July.

Saturday 11 May

KRob is in Scotland looking for players, while others are in France and Spain, apparently there’s a ball playing midfielder in the Spanish third division who may be looking for a new club. Faz has made up a double portion cheese sandwiches for his trip to Ireland, because he won’t touch that funny foreign food they eat.

Back home, when GLS’ creepy uncle comes for Christmas, he shuts his eyes, goes to his happy place and prays the door handle doesn’t click in the dead of the night. That happy place is 2016 when everything was rosey and there was no such thing as Agon Mehmeti. So, on Saturday, GLS got that funny feeling in his trousers watching 2016 alumnus Kemar Roofe smashing in the winner for Leeds in the Championship play-off semi-final against Derby.

Later on, Wondertroll Chris Maguire larruped in the winner for Sunderland against Portsmouth while Max Crocombe was on the bench for plucky underdogs Salford City, as they won promotion to the Football League. It just goes to show that all you need is a dream and a billion pounds to make it in life.

Midweek fixture: Chris Wilder – Premier League manager

When Oxford United appointed Chris Wilder I thought we’d given up. We’d tried the ‘been there, done that’ appointments (Atkins, Talbot), the emerging talent (Wright, Rix), the messiah (Jim Smith) and even the South American Alex Ferguson (Diaz). None had worked, and so in 2009, with finances biting, this nondescript appointment seemed like a sign we were hunkering down for a long dark winter of simply being a non-league club.

In fact, there was one recruitment tactic we hadn’t tried – advertising the role; applications, interviews, a selection criteria. Where his predecessors were heavily networked into the footballing establishment, Wilder was a hidden gem. He’d taken Halifax to the brink returning to the Football League against a backdrop of crippling financial problems, then working alongside Alan Knill at Bury to win them promotion. What he needed was a chance to get into the system; it came via Kelvin Thomas and Ian Lenagan and a dose of good practice.

Wilder’s first move was to create a siege mentality around the club; he declared Sam Deering – who broke his leg in his first game – to be our best player. Deering wasn’t, but the sense of injustice was galvanising. This was immediately followed by the revelation that the club was being deducted five points for not registering Eddie Hutchinson as a player. Hutchinson had been with the club for three years, but was on his way out and unregistered, then played due to injuries. It was a harsh punishment for an admin error, made all the worse by the fact we missed out on the play-offs by those five points. Wilder’s parting shot for the season was about his desire to get out of ‘this poxy league’ – the club and fans were as one on that.

Wilder’s ‘poxy league’ comment would be repeated countless time because it encapsulated both him as a person and the team he wanted to create – scratchy, awkward, aggressively ambitious and strangely relatable. Wilder knew we didn’t belong in the Conference, but he also knew getting out of it had to be earned.

The following season’s promotion will always be remembered as nothing but glorious, but it wasn’t without issues. Wilder was apoplectic at the apparent apathy after we’d raced to a 4-0 win over Chester in an unbeaten start to the season which saw us topping the table. He ranted about the club being backward looking, wallowing in its Milk Cup glory, much to the considerable chagrin of many fans – a rift that, for some, never healed.

He was right, we’d spent too long expecting a revival, like success would come from the push of a button – a different manager, new player or just some kind of natural justice. What was really needed was culture change, a reality check of who we were. The culture shift came in the form of players who would thrive in the environment, not freeze in it – Dannie Bulman, Mark Creighton, Adam Murray, Ryan Clarke, Jake Wright, James Constable. All players who shared a mindset, the relentless pursuit of success.

The coup de grace was the 3-1 win over York in the play-off final at Wembley. In many ways, a greater achievement than the Milk Cup Final win of 1986, certainly more important in terms of our survival as a club. It should have cemented Wilder as sitting alongside Jim Smith as one of the club’s great managers.

One of my lasting memories of that win was not so much the elation of winning, but the relief that Wilder’s efforts hadn’t gone unrewarded; in many ways the fear of failure, even when things were going well, drove him forward.

Back in the Football League, his elevated flight instinct – running away from failure – seemed to get the better of him. Fans interviewed coming out of Wembley were already talking about back-to-back promotions, so expectations were high. Wilder’s impatience to progress caused him to break up the promotion team – Jack Midson and Matt Green were loaned out, along with Mark Creighton and Dannie Bulman. The dumping of the heroes of Wembley – the spine of the team – didn’t do much for Wilder’s stock with the fans.

To some extent it killed our momentum, steadying the ship took time. The bi-product of the stall was a first league meeting with Swindon Town for 10 years the following season. It was perfect for Wilder; who got  under the skin of the more celebrated Paolo DiCanio. A home and away double was as much about outfoxing DiCanio as it was a footballing victory.

The success wasn’t without collateral damage. A proposed move to Swindon for James Constable dragged on for much of that season, damaging the relationship between manager and his on-the-field talisman.

There was another win over Swindon the following season in the JPT Trophy, but after an underwhelming campaign, with promotion missed and financial constraints biting, Ian Lenagan presented a new vision for the club; of homegrown players leading the club’s future. There was a short term contract extension for Wilder, barely an endorsement. Wilder looked haunted, subservient to his owner’s will, constrained by a triple lock of promotion expectations, a falling budget and the burning platform of a short-term contract.  

Time was running out; like many managers who have got teams promoted from the Conference Wilder remained a decent bet for any struggling team. Portsmouth were first to bite, and Lenagan barely blinked allowing him to speak to them, he didn’t get the job, but it was the clearest indication yet that Wilder wasn’t wanted.

Then Northampton came sniffing; they were bottom of the league and heading for the Conference, any manager would have been mad to take it on. But, for Wilder, it was perfect; an opportunity to get angry, invigorate and agitate, to shake them out of their slumber, no excuses. At Oxford, his fight had gone, he could please nobody. But also, things were running themselves, Wilder couldn’t be a hands-off manager strategically shaping the club, he needed a problem to solve. The impact was instant; Wilder sparked an astonishing revival, they went into the final game of the season within a win of saving themselves from relegation. Their opponents? Oxford United.

It goes without saying that Northampton swept to safety with a 3-1 win, it was such a Wilder thing to do.

As Wilder steadied Northampton, Michael Appleton arrived to transform Oxford. Appleton was the anti-Wilder – a theoretician and strategist – process, not results. Very modern.

Over the next year Appleton remodelled the he inherited from Wilder; jettisoning many of his players. Ryan Clarke, Alfie Potter and Danny Rose all eventually reconnected Wilder with his Oxford past.

With both managers battleplans fully in place; 2015/16 put Wilder’s resurgent Northampton side in direct opposition to his previous club. For once, we were the progressive modern affectation, they were the rugged survivors. The Cobblers task made all the more difficult in a backdrop of implied corruption and near bankruptcy. No Oxford fan would trade Michael Appleton, but it was difficult not to be impressed by the way Wilder rounded on those who were putting the club in jeopardy, imploring them to accept an offer for the club from his former Oxford boss Kelvin Thomas.

Thomas eventually took over, and Wilder took Northampton on a long undefeated streak to the top of the league. We weren’t doing bad ourselves, but were burdened by cup runs in the JPT and FA Cup. While we took plaudits from the media, they streaked to the title, inflicting a typically Wilder-esque defeat at the Kassam in February. We secured the second promotion spot, with Michael Appleton claiming we were the best footballing team in the division. Wilder raged, but it showed the difference between the two managers – Appleton the scientist and theoretician, Wilder, a results man through and through.

Inevitably, Wilder’s success brought the attention of others, and finally a club he couldn’t resist – Sheffield United. There’d been talk, even at Oxford, about how they just had to ask and Wilder would go, but now was his opportunity. Like his two previous clubs, The Blades needed organising, shaking out of their slumber; perfect for Wilder. The only question was whether he could scale his skills to a club of their size.

Yes. He took them to the League 1 title in his first season, swatting us out the way, yet again. Mirroring his Northampton days; he acquired Oxford captain Jake Wright. Following a period of consolidation in The Championship, George Baldock and Jon Lundstram – a chunk of the best footballing team in League 2 were now gunning for the Premier League. Marvin Johnson was added, albeit on loan and not really playing.

While it is likely that maybe only Baldock will expect to play in the Premier League, it is telling that no less than four former Michael Appleton players were in Wilder’s promotion squad. Appleton found the players, Wilder got them winning. If there wasn’t animosity between the two of them, they’d probably be a dream team.

So, Wilder is now one of the elite managers in the country, fourth or fifth in line for the England job, you might argue. Weirdly, the Premier League might suit him. Nobody will fancy his team to stay up so he’ll have plenty to rail against, he can create the siege mentality and rage against the uneven playing field as he did in his first season with us in the Conference, he can get under the skin of the suave European managers like he did with Paolo DiCanio.

And yet, his time at Oxford, which started it all has left a stain with all parties. You only have to see Wilder celebrating promotion; middle aged spread, a weak lager in his hand frothing over to tell you everything you need to know about how Oxford fans should feel towards him. Should we be proud of what he’s achieved, and wish him well in the future? Yes. Is he a bit of a tit? Yes also. When it comes to Oxford’s relationship with Wilder, that’s probably about as good as it will get.