Match wrap: Oxford United 4 Hartlepool United 1

I tend to park in a little side road about 10 minutes from the ground. Apart from the busiest games, there’s always space. Not many people know about it and there’s a small group of us who do know how to make the most out of the space available.

I was looking forward to getting back to normal after three 10,000+ attendances. I left the house at my usual time and arrived at my usual spot. Someone had parked on the wrong side of the road creating a chicane, limiting the space available. There wasn’t space for me, so I had to park in my ‘big-game’ spot instead.

The ticketing strategy for the FA Cup win over Hartlepool undoubtedly worked, but it did create a lot of irregular behaviour. There seemed to be a lot of newbies; kids in brand new merchandise, queues outside the South Stand, which is unheard of. It was a real success.

I happened to be sitting in my regular seat thanks to Brinyhoof, but nobody else was. The unallocated seats seemed to change the dynamic of the crowd, making it a much more passive, expectant experience. At times it felt like we’d turned up to watch a training session or friendly. People were here to be entertained.

The pre-match gathering to recognise mental health and/or John Shuker and/or everyone who died last year was confusing. They were all important things to mark, but all at the same time made the atmosphere even stranger. Thankfully, nothing touched the farce of the Armistice ceremony at Portsmouth. But then, nothing could.

On the pitch, we stroked the ball around reassuringly, Karl Robinson, usually a hyperactive lunatic on the touchline, spent much of the first half rolling his eyes in a professorial way at the incompetence around him. Nobody seemed that bothered about turning it into a competitive, must-win game.

Then, in a moment reminiscent of San Marino’s goal against England in 1993, Rob Dickie scuffed a back pass and they darted in to score. It created an even more peculiar atmosphere; there was an expectation in the stands that this would be put right, like taking back an over-ripe pack of peaches to Waitrose.

But initially there seemed to be no reaction. They didn’t look threatening, but then neither did we. What was needed, and is needed in all games, is someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Usually we rely on Cameron Brannagan or James Henry, but neither were available.

It was possible that we’d simply let the game slip by, compressing the time available to get the equaliser, then a winner. They never looked particularly threatening and they seemed to have vulnerabilities we could exploit. This was no better illustrated by Michael Raynes; a great guy who had a solid game, but let’s not forget he was a second string League 2 central defender for us. Five years ago. They were nothing special. It could have been the strangest giantkilling in history; driven by apathy with the risk staring us in the face.

Shandon Baptiste can cut an insouciant character, he doesn’t dart about finding spaces, driving people on, he’s rarely stretching for balls, he can look like he’s waiting for the game to come to him. Without Henry or Brannagan we needed someone to change the patterns of the match. Their role was to put bodies behind the ball, ours was to find a way through. Baptiste is the one with the tools to do it, but whether he had the will was another question.

Then, suddenly he was finding a breathtaking range of passing with new angles that cut out lines of Hartlepool’s defence and stretched them in ways they didn’t know they could be stretched. One ball out to Sam Long was simply breathtaking. He has such presence of mind, that there was one foul on the half-way line where he fell while staying on his feet until he was sure the referee had given it. He was in complete control.

His goal, of course, was the culmination of it all. Barrelling through players with step-overs, dummy’s and a dropped shoulder. Like an extended remix of his goal against West Ham.

In the end, it was all quite comfortable and hopefully some of the day-trippers enjoyed their time enough to come to games which aren’t determined by the size of the opponents or the price of the tickets. That has to be the aim; with Rotherham, Ipswich, Sunderland and Portsmouth to come, as well as the next round of the Cup, there’s plenty of entertainment on offer in the coming weeks.

We have a number of flight-risks this transfer window – Dickie, Brannagan, Baptiste. But, where Dickie and Brannagan are most likely to be targeted by teams in the Championship, teams we could be playing next year, you sense with Baptiste that he has the potential to go higher. My hope is that whatever path he does take, its developmental and he doesn’t find himself stuck in a Championship squad keeping their head above water, his home should be at the very top of the game.

George Lawrences Shorts: Cadden falling star and put it in your pocket

Saturday 28 December 2019

Look, between Christmas and New Year we have no idea what day it is, when the bins go out and we’ve reached the point where choosing the healthy meal option means picking a Bounty out of our box of Celebrations. So, we can’t be absolutely sure if it’s true that Bolton and Motherwell are interested in the services former Oxford work experience student Jonte Smith, but anything is possible. 

Sunday 29 December 2019

The crazy gang met the culture club on Sunday with Oxford running out 2-1 winners over Wimbledon. Orphaned Oxford Jedward Mark Sykes donned his neon winklepickers and scored the second half winner. 

To you and I, he’s the chatty scouser with the viscosity of custard, but it turns out that KRob may actually be football’s master puppeteer. It turns out that he was the evil genius behind Rangers’ recent derby win over Celtic.

Monday 30 December 2019

He was near ever-present for Oxford during the 1960s clocking over 500 games over 15 years. The man Sam Long described as a bit of a newcomer, John Shuker, sadly died on Monday

Tuesday 31 December 2019

In the last decade there have been about 40,000 hours of professional football played in England. Drunk betting website The Sack Race have rated cosmopolitan sophisticat Christophe Wilde as the best manager of the decade. OF. THE. DECADE. The man who signed Tom Newey and David Hunt beat Pep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. 

OF. THE. WHOLE. DAMN. DECADE.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

A New Year! Now we’re in the future, it’s all teleporting, silver suits and power pills. Apart from Jamie Mackie who has thrown a canvas bag over his shoulder and headed to the hills to live off the fruits of the forest until ‘you all come to your senses’. And with good reason as the crumbling of society began with a 1-0 defeat to Doncaster.

Elsewhere, we’re always very proud when our former players really go on to achieve great things, Gavin Whyte helicopter impression made it into the top 20 most read sports stories on Belfast Live last year.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Cowboy Chris Cadden has loaded up his horse and headed out west to join the homesteaders Columbus Crew. The announcement triggered a trolling war with something called The Crew View, sort of GLS with a gun fetish. It’s a big challenge for Cadden to move over 3,500 miles given that he previously listed his major achievement when moving to Oxford as ironing his own trousers.

It was also announce that Oussama Zamouri has left the club; Zamouri made one appearance depriving Oxford fans of the opportunity to sing: “When you forget who you’ve got, and you’ve not had a shot, that’s Zamouri”. 

Friday 3 January 2020

KRob has gone all jealous ex-boyfriend to slide into Cowboy Chris Cadden’s DMs pleading with him to come back to Oxford. Expect him to appear stripped to the waist, with a bag of cans at Cowboy Chris’ ranch drunkenly singing Ed Sheeran ballads at 4 in the morning in an attempt to get him back. 

Meanwhile, there will be a new song on the terraces for the visit of Hartlepool in the Cup. All together now: ‘We’re by far the 15th greatest team, the EFL has ever seen (this decade)‘.

Match wrap: Doncaster Rovers 1 Oxford United 0

According to WordPress, this is my 1,000th blog post. That’s quite a lot. I thought about doing something special to mark the milestone, but like most of my plans, it came to nothing.

I didn’t plan this, when I originally set it up in 2006 it was simply to give me a place to rant about things which were going wrong at the club. I couldn’t keep up with the reductive arguments on Yellows Forum, so wanted somewhere that wouldn’t answer back.

Over the years it’s built up a fairly small but dedicated readership and attracted lots of nice comments. I’m not particularly driven, dedication is not something I have in abundance. There was no real plan or commitment to make it ‘a thing’. The moderate success it enjoys simply came from writing one post at a time. Maybe that’s the best way.

It probably wasn’t wise to hand the fate of my 1,000th post to a match wrap as a defeat is always a possibility.

But, I don’t feel particularly negative about the loss to Doncaster, in fact I think it might help us. The original purpose of this blog was to track a journey, to capture long meandering threads of thoughts and ideas and see where it takes us. So far it’s taken us from the edge of the Conference North to the edge of The Championship. I’ve seen us play higher, my dad has seen us play lower.

Some clubs are imperialists – they feel they have a right to dominate, Manchester United being the classic example. Other teams exist to exist, they serve their local community, they don’t have too many highs and they don’t have too many lows.

We’re adventurers and bounty hunters, we’ve never really settled anywhere for long. When things are bad, we still harbour ambitions to rise. There’s always been a responsibility to keep going. We’re never really content or comfortable when we stand still or are unnecessarily expectant.

Moving into the promotion places was a real bonus, an important message to send out to everyone that we can be serious about promotion. But, I’m more comfortable with us chasing than being chased. Historically we’ve been at our best when we’ve been in that position, building momentum, a head of steam so that come Spring there’s a sense of undying belief.

Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth was interviewed after their draw with Ipswich. They’ve had a torrid Christmas, Ainsworth made out that there was nothing to worry about, but you could see that that he was feeling the pressure of being top. Of course, he should be happy about being in their position, but with Christmas passing, the next stop is May and the final reckonings. That’s when history judge will judge them. When you’re feeling chased and a bit jaded, May is going to feel like a long way away.

January may only see us play two league games, so the focus is on what happens off the pitch. By the end of the month we’ll know which players we have at our disposal and we should have games in hand – all three at home (Accrington, Ipswich and possibly Wimbledon). Then the chase will be on. With home games against Sunderland and Portsmouth to come, our current position probably suits us better than sitting in the automatic positions waiting to be shot at.

Whatever, it’s the adventure that drives us, defeats are body blows and flesh wounds, they’re not fatal. That instinct to keep going – part duty, part hope, part insanity; one game at a time, one post at a time, is key to our long term success.

Match wrap: AFC Wimbledon 1 Oxford United 2

There’s a scene in the new Star Wars film in which the Millennium Falcon engages in the previous unheard-of act of ‘light speed skipping’. With the saga coming to an end, it feels like an excuse for the film makers to show off off-cuts of ideas they don’t have time to show you properly.

The rest of the film is a mad dash to bring the story to some kind of conclusion. In a story whose appeal is that the possibilities feel infinite, suddenly everything feels very finite.

In real life, of course, stories don’t have a convenient beginning, middle and end, they meander infinitely. A decade is a convenient timespan to review a story arc but it doesn’t conclude the story. We end the 2010s in second following the 2-1 win over Wimbledon to go second in League 1, we started with a 1-0 defeat to Tamworth in the Conference, while that shows great progress, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

In 2009 we weren’t at our lowest ebb. That defeat to Tamworth was our only home loss that season; we were already gunning for promotion, Chris Wilder’s revolution was well under way. Likewise, our current league position is merely a brief snapshot; the story continues.

There’s more to do this season, but the win may be more significant than most. We started Christmas as a play-off hopeful, we finish it as genuine promotion contenders.

One of the biggest risks to promotion is the loss of key players in the transfer window. Our new status has strengthened our bargaining position considerably.

For the owners, the prospect of the Championship promises an uptick in revenue, even if they were thinking of cashing in or tightening our belts financially, it should bolster their resolve to support Karl Robinson at least in the short-term.

For the players too, the opportunity to add a promotion to their CV should encourage them to stick with the club at least until the summer. The most likely suitors are going to be from the Championship, but look at Ryan Ledson, Curtis Nelson and Marvin Johnson; all have struggled to secure a game-time since stepping up. Unless clubs are prepared to pay big money and salaries, from a footballing perspective, moving now makes a little less sense.

If you’re a club looking for players, we have to be a club of interest, but we’re niche; we don’t have players guaranteed to get promotion to the Premier League or save a team from relegation. We have players who will strengthen squads and may be a good investment for the future. Our players are longer term prospects whereas January tends to be about short term investments.

With promotion a real prospect, the only scenarios I can see where we might lose players is if a team decides to offer a super-premium we can’t ignore. Alternatively, if, somehow, a bidding war breaks out we might see clubs moving more quickly than they’d normally want to. Neither seems likely to me.

Moving into an automatic promotion spot doesn’t conclude any stories, but with the January transfer window widely considered to be a significant factor in our prospects, the win over Wimbledon might just be the platform we need to conclude this phase of the story in the way we want.

George Lawrences Shorts: MApp reading

Saturday 21 December 2019

Divorced dad at a PTA Disco Gareth Ainsworth hasn’t been this disappointed since he failed to seduce Cabbage Karen, the school’s dinner lady, last Christmas. He brought his table topping Wycombe team to the Kassam and like that fateful night, left with his tail between his legs after a 1-0 defeat. The goal came from James Henry, but the game pivoted when The Mr T of the Chilterns, Ade Akinfenwa, was sent off for throwing John Mousinho over the North Stand.

Sunday 22 December 2019

It’s Christmas, which means family, friends and avoiding creepy Uncle Alan and his wandering hands. So if you want to pretend to be engrossed in something, The Roker Report remembers Sunderland’s 1975 win over Oxford. I mean, don’t we all?

Monday 23 December 2019

MApp has been reflecting on his time with Oxford. The three years of promotions, giant killings and derby wins has really brought a smile to his face. For MApp this requires a complex mechanical contraption attached to a winch.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

When we say MApp’s back, we mean it; it may be Christmas, but for the new Lincoln manager it’s business as usual as he prepares to face his old club on Boxing Day. Obviously it’s still a special time; following a turkey protein shake on the big day he’ll be dusting off the novelty festive dumbbells readying himself for the game. 

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? KRob gave the squad the day off on Christmas Day knowing that there was a box of Celebrations and a DVD of Skyfall with his name on at home. Depressed sixth former Rob Dickie got a chemistry set, but told the lads he got a Sam Fox calendar, Jose’s son John Mousinho got socks and the Top Gear Annual, Jamie Mackie broke his record for stuffing sausage meat stuffing balls up his nose. 

Thursday 26 December 2019

I don’t know if we mentioned it; Mr Big Guns was back in town on Thursday as MApp brought his Lincoln team to the Kassam. Ecclesiastical genius Shandon The Baptiste scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. KRob felt the pressure throughout the game; holding your gut in with MApp rippling three feet away really takes it out of you.

Friday 27 December 2019

No football tomorrow, but the team is preparing to meet The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon on Sunday. With the busy Christmas period, KRob is planning to rest a few players. Jamie Mackie will return to face elbowing duties up front while a number of the midfield are expected to be rested by standing in the middle of the pitch watching the ball sail over their heads for ninety minutes.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Lincoln City 0

Growing up, we had an unwritten family rule on Christmas Day; you didn’t leave the house. Leaving the house would be a waste. It would be dedicated to wholesome family pursuits of present opening (about 12 minutes) and TV (about 12 hours). Boxing Day was all about blowing away the thin film of dust that caked us as we sat around in our centrally heated house eating chocolate, staring at our presents and generally stagnating.

If we could, we’d go to the football. Before we moved to the area, we’d visit my grandparents in Abingdon and my dad would take me to The Manor. That novelty alone made it special. Afterwards, I’d thaw out with whatever Subbuteo accessories I’d been given, reenacting the day’s game as best I could with teams in Celtic and Motherwell colours, using my programme as a reference.

When I got older, I started to play football in the morning so Oxford games in the afternoon were associated with aching legs. I remember going to Molineux in 1996 with my dad to watch us lose to Wolves; a proper dads and sons day out. Going to football with dad pretty much ended five years later in 2001 when he moaned his way through our 2-1 defeat to Luton at the Kassam.

Most recently, Boxing Day games have been with friends, in 2003 I tore ankle ligaments playing in the morning, but decided to run it off. About ten of us managed to see Julian Allsop’s last minute winner against Leyton Orient which kept us top of the table. Sitting for two hours with the pain in my foot growing, I hobbled out of the stadium, but couldn’t make it back to the car. I couldn’t walk on it for over a week and still feel the pain now.

In 2015, I showed off our promotion winning team with pride as we swept past Exeter, the friend I was with asking eagerly who each player was, in awe at what he was watching.

But Boxing Day games have lost their attraction in the last few years. I enjoy the big crowd and its weird mix; whole families with excitable, but perplexed girlfriends and distant relatives bolted on. People sharing their left over Quality Street around during a lull in play. On Saturday I saw a bloke order a coffee go to the end of the counter to pick it up as though he was in Starbucks. There was a couple innocently drinking beer in the stand, something that’s been illegal for 35 years. But, knowing that results haven’t gone for us in recent years, the anticipation left me flat.

We’ve had three big crowds in the last week, so that novelty was gone, and a bit like Christmas Day, I now realise in my mind Boxing Day football is basically an amalgam of all the best previous Boxing Day experiences. No one game will ever surpass it.

Shandon Baptiste’s howitzer aside, the game felt flat. At times it played like an extended set of training drills with both sides playing good quality possession football. We know Michael Appleton is a great coach, but he can be too much of a purist. Karl Robinson has added that edge to our game, which is what allows us to compete against teams like Wycombe. Baptiste’s strike, Mousinho’s cynical, but necessary, foul and a Jamie Mackie cameo were the only signs of it. Otherwise we looked a bit tired.

There was a large group of non-regulars behind me during the game, groaning and shouting to ‘get it in there’ whenever we got close to the final third of the pitch. It was unusual to hear that kind of frustration as more frequent visitors are getting used to the idea of being patient in possession looking for the angles and the moments that make all the difference.

I guess if you haven’t seen us play often, accepting that the goalkeeper will roll the ball out to centre backs stood barely outside the six yard box is part of the challenge. Only with time can you be assured that this is all part of the plan.

I would miss Boxing Day football if it didn’t exist, I like the novelty and it’s place in the Christmas holiday period. I like the new faces. But, where us regulars are having to learn what good football at this level looks like, the day-trippers’ impatience for entertainment can be disruptive. It’s good to bag the three points and move on; to get back to something a little more normal. The three big crowds have been great, but we’re now at a point where performing in a one-off occasion isn’t our goal, our goals are more long term.

Midweek fixture: James Constable, the making of a legend

There are some good players, there are bad some players, there are even more players you completely forget about. The throne on which a genuine club legend can sit has space for just one person at a time. Ascent to it is a once in a generation thing.

James Constable’s dominant win in the Favourite #oufc Player of the Decade World Cup showed that though many great players have had a significant impact on both the fans and club – particularly in a decade of progress – getting to the very top requires something else, something a little magical.

As I got older, I thought heroes were just for children; people who give you formative experiences, who do things you physically can’t imagine being able to do. I remember John Doyle in the 1980s kicking a ball from the penalty box to the halfway line and thinking he was a god. Experience makes those feats less novel, the things they do, you can do, sort of. As a result, the bar of expectation, of what constitutes legendary status, gradually increases until nobody can obtain it anymore. Age reminds you that even the biggest achievements by the best players are tempered by the fact they still sit within a range of what you know is possible.

It means physical achievements are just the starting point of what makes a player a club legend. To truly cement yourself at the top of the tree, you have to soak into the fabric of the club, transcend the physical. As you get older you begin to realise that club legends have to be, in some way, metaphysical.

When Joey Beauchamp left Oxford in 2002 it changed my relationship with the club. Beauchamp was a different kind of hero for me – a contemporary rather than the unobtainable supermen of my childhood. After that every player was younger than me, making it harder for them to be heroes. I became less interested in individuals and more in the collective whole; the club. I didn’t think it would be possible to look at another individual player as a genuine club legend, until James Constable arrived.

Even then it crept up on me, Constable was originally signed by Darren Patterson on loan from Shrewsbury Town in 2008. His arrival benefitted from coming in the slipstream of Jamie Guy, who signed from Colchester with a bit of a reputation and therefore more expectation.

Guy started pre-season encouragingly, but was injured in the last friendly before the season started and never quite recovered. A gloom was descending over the club, Jim Smith had failed to get us promoted back to the Football League and money seemed to be running out. The financial and spiritual weight of the Kassam Stadium was weighing around our necks, dragging us down. Perhaps the preoccupation with our plight allowed time for Constable to settle in; in the first fifteen games of the season he scored four times, but only in two games.

Thereafter Constable scored steadily, but the team’s results and consistency weren’t there; Patterson’s job slipped through his fingers, eventually being relieved of his duties after defeat to Torquay United in the FA Cup. In his place came Chris Wilder.

Wilder’s first game was a Boxing Day defeat to Salisbury which was marred by Sam Deering breaking his leg. Wilder described it as losing his best player, but that seemed a smokescreen to give him a chance to lower expectations while he got the club organised.

Constable was at the centre of the change, his reaction to Wilder’s arrival was instant. He scored in the next five consecutive games and though hampered by a five point deduction for fielding an ineligible player, Wilder’s influence seemed to be firing the club to an unexpected tilt at promotion. At the heart of the club’s revival was a symbiotic relationship between Wilder and his striker.

Jamie Guy returned to his parent club leaving Constable a clear run as the club’s main striker. In the last 20 games of the season, Oxford lost just once with Constable scoring 14 league goals, including a heart stopping injury-time winner against Wrexham, making 26 for the season. Defeat to Northwich Victoria on the last day denied a place in the play-offs, the club missing out by the five points it had been deducted earlier in the year.   

The anger fuelled an expectation that things would improve, but all expectation was that Constable would return to Shrewsbury or be picked up by a bigger club, his goals no doubt attracting interest from elsewhere. In fact, with chairman Kelvin Thomas driving an aggressive agenda of change, in the summer of 2009 it was announced we’d signed him permanently. 

The summer was one of big signings and with the momentum gained from the previous season we started the new year in storming form. A front three of Constable, Jack Midson and Matt Green made us unplayable. Against Luton Town, Constable scored seconds after missing a penalty and notched a hat-trick against Chester which was eventually chalked off when they went bust and were thrown out of the division. The loss of those goals from the records was something that would become significant in later years.

Our form dipped in mid-season with Stevenage Borough’s consistency putting paid to our championship hopes. In the end we had to settle for a play-off spot against Rushden and Diamonds for a tilt at Wembley. Constable scored in the first leg at Nene Park before adding another in a riotous win at The Kassam a few days later.

Over 30,000 Oxford fans descended on Wembley for the play-off final against York City, though his moment was eclipsed by the iconic third goal by Alfie Potter, Constable’s second was a classic of its type; all power and technique. We were back in the Football League, for the second season in a row Constable topped the goalscoring charts with 26 goals.

Despite talk of back-to-back promotions, the Football League proved tougher than we’d expected. The step up in quality, particularly defensively, and over-tinkering of the squad by Chris Wilder clipped our momentum. We were just happy to be back, quietly Constable clocked a very creditable 17 goals. It prompted a speculative bid from Luton for Beano’s services which was quickly rejected.

A by-product of that season of consolidation is that it put us on a direct collision course for our first League encounter for nine years with Swindon Town, who had been relegated to League 2. The re-ignition of the our fiercest rivalry was a true confirmation of our return. 

The away game was only the fourth league game of the season. Swindon had recruited the controversial and charismatic Paolo DiCanio as manager. In the run up to the game, Di Canio targeted Constable claiming that he had been a Swindon fan who had stood on the terraces at The County Ground. Though it was possible that he had spent time there as a child, Constable had always presented himself as a Spurs fan. The point was to disrupt Oxford’s preparation for the game. The stunt backfired as Constable grabbed both goals in a 2-1 win, the first away win in the derby for 38 years. 

A few days after the win, the club’s nerve was tested as Bournemouth, who by this time were a team on the up, made a bid for Constable’s services. After failing to agree terms, he stayed. It was a sign of things to come. For the next few transfer windows we were faced with the novel experience of having a player others wanted. What was more unusual, was that the player, though not the club, resisted the temptation to cash in.

Despite that early season high, consistency was difficult to maintain with Constable scoring less frequently. Hopes of the play-offs dwindled. In January DiCanio was back, this time with an offer to buy Constable. Swindon were heading for an inevitable promotion and spending heavily, though battling admirably, we were struggling to find the resources to really fire us forward. Cashing in on our prize asset, just as his goals had started to dry up was an attractive proposition and Chris Wilder was nothing if not pragmatic. But, it was Swindon, and for the fans, that changed everything.

Wilder saw an opportunity; DiCanio’s offer was accepted and Constable headed to Wiltshire to talk terms. As the January window closed, Oxford fans panicked at the radio silence. It felt pivotal, a worrying depiction of who we were as a club. Did we have our own identity and purpose, or were we simply going to cow-tow to our greatest rivals, surviving on the scraps others fed us?

Then, nothing, Constable turned the offer down and stayed at the club. DiCanio had been spurned, Oxford’s number 9 would stay Oxford’s number 9 passing up the opportunity to play at a higher level and, presumably, earn more money. Goals made Constable, but turning down Swindon propelled him to a different level. The episode also damaged Wilder’s reputation with the fans.

The decision wasn’t without consequences, Constable now says his relationship with Wilder never quite recovered. The by-product of the affair meant Constable had the power, and even though Wilder ultimately benefitted, it wasn’t something he was likely to be tolerant of.

The return fixture with Swindon was in March, they were storming to the title and on a long unbeaten run. The Kassam was hosting its first league derby and the atmosphere was febrile. The away win back in August would mean nothing if The Robins simply snatched the initiative back at the first opportunity. The opening exchanges were tense, in front of the Swindon fans Constable appeared to break clear of his marker, but the referee pulled the play back, reached for his pocket and pulled out a red card for an apparent elbow. The video is inconclusive, there appeared to be a trailing arm, but all Constable’s momentum seemed to be in the opposite direction.

Constable disappeared down the tunnel, Swindon fans sensed revenge, but ironically, even with him not there, he had a telling impact on the result. The dramatic change of dynamic unleashed attacking threats from midfield and gave us licence to defend resolutely. Two quick-fire goals from Oli Johnson and Asa Hall secured a famous 2-0 win and the double.

In reality Constable’s on field effectiveness appeared to be on the wane. The flow of goals slowed despite notching his 100th club goal in a win over Mansfield to take us top of the table.

He ended 2011-12 again as top scorer, but with just eleven goals. He was a power player rather than a clever or fast one; it seemed to be becoming less effective and certainly not enough to propel us to promotion.

Wilder had been prospecting for re-enforcements, perhaps even replacements – Tom Craddock, a huge favourite of Wilder’s, signed from Luton, and Deane Smalley – a very similar type of player to Constable from Oldham. Neither could topple the striker.

In the following season, Constable didn’t score a league goal until the end of October and though he ended the season with an improved 14 goals as a club we seemed to be losing our way.

He did have another telling contribution; we drew Swindon in the EFL Trophy. In a tense and tight game, with two minutes to spare Constable suddenly broke forward squaring the ball to Alfie Potter who slotted home for another famous win.

But, overall the season had been a disappointment, there was speculation that Chris Wilder’s time at Oxford was coming to an end. After three years in League 2 the prospect of promotion seemed to be getting further away, not closer. Owner Ian Lenagan called a press conference but rather than announce Wilder’s departure, he confirmed a short extension to his contract and a new vision of youth team players leading us to future glory. On one level it seemed compelling, on another, it was a vision to cope with austerity. Wilder, though, looked broken; a prisoner in Lenagan’s vision.

The season, though, started spectacularly with a 4-1 win over Portsmouth at Fratton Park, but things plateaued. Wilder was given the opportunity to talk to Portsmouth about a vacancy later in the season and would eventually walk out on the club to go to Northampton where he saved them from relegation and revitalised his career. Mickey Lewis took over as caretaker, playing Constable on the wing before Gary Waddock arrived for a short-lived hapless spell. Constable scored a solid twelve goals, topping the goalscoring charts for the fifth consecutive season, but the mood had darkened.

The summer saw the club stagnate amidst rumours of a takeover, weeks passed with just one signing coming in – Danny Hylton. Otherwise, there was silence. Constable’s contract was up and with him being a high earner, there was uncertainty about his future. When the offer did come in, it was obviously some way below what he was expecting. With the club about to undergo a revolution under Darryl Eales, Constable left for Eastleigh and their ambitious project to recreate the Oxford glories of 2010 under Yellows fan Stewart Donald.

James Constable played over 270 games for Oxford scoring 106 goals. He’s the second highest all-time record goalscorer, the hat-trick against Chester in 2009 that was chalked off meant he missed out on the top spot by one goal.

He remains a constant presence around the club, Karl Robinson invited him to train with the current squad and against Walsall in November he preferred the Oxford away end to the hospitality he could have enjoyed as the match’s guest of honour.

Above all, Constable seems to be a thoroughly nice bloke, always affable, happy to immerse himself in the culture of the club even though it means he can barely walk two feet without someone asking for a photo or autograph.

His goals fired us back to the Football League and kept us steady once we were up. His rejection of Swindon, and his contributions to their demise and his loyalty to Oxford cemented his position at the top of the tree.

What makes a legend? Performances are just the start, loyalty in the face of temptation is also important, a willingness to engage with the culture and purpose of the club draws you out from the norm. Beano did all these things and more.

The modern game is full of short contracts, predatory big clubs and players seeking the security of larger contracts wherever they can find them. It’s hard to imagine a player coming close to Constable’s status in the foreseeable future. Effectively retired, his football career earnings won’t sustain him and he needs to find a new path. The club is indebted to his contribution and hopefully it may be able to accommodate him in a meaningful way. If not, there are thousands of Oxford fans willing for him to succeed. Whatever he ends up doing, his legacy at least fills him with pride.