Midweek fixture: Oxford v Wycombe in ten games

Wycombe Wanderers are the visitors to the Kassam on Saturday. Just a regular Joe fixtures against a team of no consequence. Or is it? For a club that has as much relevance to us as, say, Rochdale or Morecambe, we have a surprisingly interwoven history with the team that is just 28 miles down the road, some six miles nearer than our old rivals Swindon.

So, perhaps it doesn’t have the storied past of the Swindon derby, but games against Wycombe Wanderers have rarely lacked significance. Here are ten games to whet the appetite.

April 1995 – Wycombe Wanderers 1 Oxford United 0

There are times when football clubs go through periods of cognitive dissonance; holding two conflicting views at the same time. In 1995 Oxford were in the third tier, but less less than 10 years on from our glorious heights of the Milk Cup Final – in our heads, we were both a small team and a big club. Similarly, Wycombe Wanderers were in their second season as a Football League club – a non-league team in the league. The coming together of the two clubs was both a mismatch and an alignment at the same time.

The first encounter at The Manor ended in a smash and grab 1-0 win for Wycombe but in many ways it felt like a cup giant killing than a league fixture. The following April, we headed to Adams Park for the first time expecting to exact brutal and comprehensive revenge. In the end, a calamitous mistake by Matt Elliott resulted in his sending off and the inevitable goal that followed left us staring at our new reality; Wycombe were one of us.

October 1995 – Oxford United 1 Wycombe Wanderers 4

The perception of Wycombe as a non-league team remains to this day, so it’s no surprise that similar misconceptions hung over the following season’s home fixture six months later. The outcome couldn’t be any worse than the previous season’s results and a re-correction was long overdue. Except it could and the re-correction didn’t happen. Well drilled and motivated; Wycombe picked Oxford apart with two identical set-piece goals leading 3-0 at half-time before eventually cruising to a 4-1 win. The humiliation did, however, act as a wake up call about our intentions for the season. The result sent a chilling reminder to the team that we couldn’t cruise to promotion; we’d have to fight for it. The chastening defeat would be the last one at The Manor that season providing a crucial building block to promotion.

April 1996 – Wycombe Wanderers 0 Oxford United 3

By April 1996 we were a different team; a stunning run of results from Christmas had catapulted us into play-off contention. A storming win over Blackpool the Saturday before was suddenly making promotion a distinct possibility. But, our new nemesis stood in our way, to maintain the run we’d need to finally put the Wycombe hoodoo away. On the following Easter Monday, we cruised on a wave of unstoppable momentum to a 3-0 win making memories and setting course for automatic promotion.

September 2000 – Wycombe Wanderers 3 Oxford United 1

Four years later the story was somewhat different. Against the backdrop of Firoz Kassam’s battle to move the club to its new stadium, Oxford’s on-the-field exploits were a meaningless, hopeless sideshow. Everything came to a head in the 2000/01 season with a slew of poor signings, failing talent and comical mismanagement. Oxford travelled to Adams Park for a Friday night game on Sky; the humiliation was absolute, not only were we humbled in a 3-1 defeat, at half-time injured goalkeeper Richard Knight was replaced by Hubert Busby Junior, a player many fans didn’t know we had. The Canadian delayed the re-start due to the fact the club didn’t have a spare goalkeeper’s jersey forcing him to play the second half in a training top. If anyone had delusions of our dominance in the relationship, they were surely put to bed here. Where’s the video? Nobody knows.

November 2006 – Wycombe Wanderers 2 Oxford United 1

By 2006 we’d hit rock bottom after being relegated to Wycombe’s spiritual home; the Conference. Now Wycombe were a club we could only aspire to be like. By November 2006 they were top of League 2, a height we could only dream of achieving. We assumed, having hit the bottom, that the bounce back was to begin as the club was no longer in the hands of Firoz Kassam and Jim Smith was back on the bench. Glory awaits.

Unbeaten all season, we were drawn together in the 1st Round of the FA Cup, providing the perfect opportunity to prove that our lowly position was some kind of administrative error. Having put up a good performance, we were eventually put in our place as Wycombe opened the scoring. A Gavin Johnson free-kick saw us grab an equaliser and an opportunity to head back to the Kassam to finish the job. A minute later Wycombe scored again, a sobering reminder of the predicament we were in.

April 2015 – Wycombe Wanderers 2 Oxford United 3

A return to the Football League in 2010 saw us reacquaint with Wycombe, but the expected rebirth and domination never quite came. In 2014 the club was taken over by Darryl Eales and Michael Appleton was installed as head coach. The first season was torture, big promises, false hopes and fitful form left us struggling. An endless supply of short-term signings and loanees meant that nothing stuck, nothing settled.

We headed to Wycombe towards the end of the season with lingering concerns about relegation hanging over us. In our ranks was an unassuming striker Kemar Roofe on loan from West Brom, one of many who’d pushed their way through the revolving door that season. Suddenly we found our mojo, Roofe scored two goals and set up the third in a dominant display kindling a return to optimism and hope.

May 2016 – Oxford United 3 Wycombe Wanderers 0

Just over a year later and everything had changed. The season had been blessed with derby wins, giant killings and Wembley, but all paled into insignificance. Going into the final game of the season, we still needed three points to secure promotion to League 1 for the first time in 15 years. It was strangely fitting that the final game was against Wycombe, our constant companion for over 20 years. The team, who hadn’t let us down all season, didn’t let us down again and we marauded to a 3-0 win and promotion. Finally, the readjustment had come, hadn’t it?

March 2019 – Oxford United 2 Wycombe Wanderers 1

Three years on from promotion, Michael Appleton had moved on and an experiment with Pep Clotet hadn’t worked. Not for the first time, the gear change from one division to another hadn’t been as smooth as we’d have liked. Karl Robinson arrived alongside new Thai owners to evolve the latest iteration of the club. Robinson faced a similar challenge to Michael Appleton, deconstructing and reconstructing the club’s culture.

A steady improvement after a difficult start, had eased some of the pressure, but there remained scepticism about the new regime. As the season eased to its inglorious end, the home fixture against Wycombe acted as an important marker of our progress. Having gone a goal down and survived a missed second-half penalty, the game ticked into its final minute and a draw seemed an inevitable conclusion. The ball was worked out to Josh Ruffels for what everyone expected to be a cross into the box for one last desperate chance. Ruffels had something different on his mind, steering a world class finish into the net from 25 yards out for a last minute win.

December 2019 – Oxford United 1 Wycombe Wanderers 0

Six months on and things had changed; Karl Robinson had found his groove; memorable wins akin to the glories of 2015 and 2016 had started to come. Wycombe, however, had found a deeper groove – one that had taken them from relegation favourites to the top of League 1. It was robust, pragmatic and effective; anathema to the expansive ethos Robinson had instilled.

The result was a meeting of cultures and an atmosphere that looked like a derby, even if it wasn’t one. James Henry grabbed a first half goal, but the game pivoted on a first-half incident when the players came together after a bad challenge from Alex Gorrin. John Mousinho sprung into action, easing his way into the melee appearing to play the peace maker while confronting the already booked Wycombe talisman Ade Akinfenwa. Playing the dark arts against its masters, Mousinho collapsed to the floor the second Akinfenwa raised his hands to shove the Oxford captain away giving the referee no choice but to send him off. The tight ship that had put Wycombe on top of the table listed badly and Oxford cruised to a memorable win.

July 2020 – Wycombe Wanderers 2 Oxford United 1

The dynamic between Oxford and Wycombe can pivot in a matter of months, but nobody could have predicted that the world would tilt on its axis following the previous December’s victory. A pandemic had struck, locking the world down. Football shut its doors hoping for the storm to pass. Its gradual re-opening resulted in a contrived resolution to the League season. Wycombe, who were falling apart following the battle at The Kassam, benefitted from a points-per-game calculation that saw them jump from 8th into the play-offs. The inevitable clash in the final came at a hauntingly empty Wembley deep into July. Oxford played all the football and had all the possession, Wycombe stuck to the template that had brought them success taking their chances securing a 2-1 win and a somewhat Pyrrhic promotion to the Championship.

When is a derby a derby? Perhaps the stories of a rivalry need to be retold and embellished to the point where they’re no longer true. They need to span generations until we no longer know what we’re all fighting about. If Oxford v Wycombe isn’t a derby, then it’s something else, whatever it is, our histories have become intertwined and we’re all the richer for it.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts – Wingdings

Sunday 25 July 2021

With no football to busy the minds of young men, it’s no a surprise to hear there’s a lot of Jacking off going on. The first Jack off, is Jack Grealish, who looks set for Manchester City despite Aston Villa offering him a new contract. Another Jack off could be Jack Stevens who Villa are interested in signing from Oxford.

Monday 26 July 2021

The Top man’s top man Jakey right right Wright has been talking to the MSM, The Hucknall Despatch, about his recent move to Boston. Boston, he says, are a massive club in the Northern Conference, which, when you realise they’ll be playing teams like Spennymoor and Curzon Athletic, is like winning a tallest dwarf competition.

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Following last week’s revelation that former loanee Tyler Roberts is dating Love Island’s Georgia Steel (no, us neither), news reaches us that Ryan Ledson has been getting his mistimed tackle out with Corrie actor Lucy Fallon. Fallon plays Bethany Platt, the granddaughter of chinless national treasure Gail. Lego featured on Fallon’s Instagram feed sharing a bowl of Betty’s Hot Pot on a date night, let’s just be thankful it wasn’t Bet Lynch who caught his eye, she’d have crushed him to dust.    

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Nothing says pre-season like a KRob LSD-induced friendly innovation. On the back of ideas like ‘two games in two days’ and ‘horseback five-a-side’*, KRob went for double Posh – which is nearly as posh as something from the Tesco’s Finest range that isn’t part of a meal deal. Quantum physicist, KRob, decided that the squad should play two simultaneous games against Peterborough on Wednesday, in the process, he proved there’s no such thing as a parallel universe as both games ended 2-2.

*Unconfirmed at the time of going to press.

Thursday 29 July 2021

There’s only one thing that KRob loves more than a winger, and that’s a returning winger. You should have seen the cheeky smile on his face when Nathan Holland walked through the door on a season long loan from West Ham.

Elsewhere, former-Oxford boss Graham Rix, whose only crimes have been having sex with a minor, being accused of racism and bullying and signing Courtney Pitt, has joined Gosport Borough as assistant manager

Friday 30 July 2021

Life can move pretty fast sometimes; it was recently revealed that board member Anindya Bakri and baby-faced billionaire Eric Thohir were interested in taking a controlling interest in the club. And, a mere five months later, Bakri has confirmed that this still could be the case.

Saturday 31 July 2021

KRob’s first-choice eleven for this season is beginning to look like the team Simon Eastwood might invite to play in his testimonial in ten years time. Willy wangning winger, Gavin Whyte becomes the third player to return to the club this summer, signing on a season’s long loan from Cardiff.

Elsewhere, Oxford went down 3-2 to Bristol Rovers in their final pre-season friendly. Oxford led through goals from Steve Seddon and James Henry, but were pegged back by two late goals from Brett Pitman. The late goals were a proper punch in the guts from Joey Barton’s Rovers, something Barton specialises in, it seems.

Midweek Fixture – Absolute State of Oxford United Survey – Part 2 – the ratings

Last week, we looked at the ‘slow’ data of who responded to this year’s Absolute State of Oxford United 2021 survey. Too long, didn’t read? Not a lot has changed. What about the more reactionary stuff? The short-term, knee-jerk, feelings you have towards the club? How did last season work out for you?

Overall

Having secured a play-off place, which was much more than many people were expecting, the general mood towards the club remains good. Overall, fans rated their general attitude 8/10, an increase on the mid-season (pre-record breaking run) result of 7.2. That said, and perhaps understandably, it was but slightly behind this time last year – which was post-Wembley, which saw us at 8.3. 

The squad

The overall squad rating has dropped back on this time last year coming in at 7.1 compared to 7.7. There is still a lot of faith in the squad when you look back to 2019 when they were rated just 6.2. There is perhaps a degree of pessimism, or maybe realism, that the reality of having a breakthrough player such as Rob Atkinson is that they will leave. It’s likely that there is a concern about how long the club can sustain the pressure of having to sell a player evey season, and more importantly, replace them with someone who will be equally valuable in a couple of years time.

The manager

Karl Robinson continues to track positively even if he didn’t fully recover from the early season sluggishness which saw him rated as 7.7 at Christmas. He’s recovered to 8.3, a bit behind where he was this time last year but a world away from the 6.1 he got back in 2019. 

The owners

I’ve said previously that it takes extra effort for the owners of the club to get a decent rating, so they should be very happy to sustain a strong approval at 7.6, exactly what they scored this time last year. Of course, the last twelve months has shown just how reliant we are on the deep pockets of our owners, but it would also be very easy to criticise them for selling our best players. Overall, this is a very good result for Tiger’s crew. 

Relationship with the fans

Curiously, the relationship between the club and the fans doesn’t track with on-field factors like the players or manager as you might expect. There’s a far closer relationship between the performance of the directors. The last two results, 7.4 in January and 7.6 now is identical to the scores of the directors. Is it that, deep down, success is really determined by what happens off the field.

Optimism

Five years ago we were still in the Michael Appleton era, even though that period was one of considerable success, there’s a strong appreciation of the progress the club has made since. 49% of respondents think things are considerably better than they were and another 36% see it as a bit better.

Casting forward, there is more caution, 45% expect it to be a little bit better with 29% expecting it to be about the same. It might be the looming threat of the post-pandemic world, but optimism is slightly worse than it was a year ago. 

Favourite players

Two players dominated the voting when it came to your favourite player. Cameron Brannagan picked up just over 20% of the votes. He’s been in the top two favourite players in each of the end-of-season votes. Top, of course, was Sam Long, who, like Brannagan, is one of the few ever-presents in the survey. Unlike Brannagan, Long’s rise up the rankings has been nothing short of remarkable; 18 months ago he picked up less than 1% of the vote – in fact in my mean-spirited and discontinued question about your least favourite player in 2019, he picked up 6% of your votes, in the latest survey he picked up 23% of the votes. Quite a turnaround. 

Moments of the season

Your moments of the season were quite concentrated; many were simply happy to attend a game whether than was the mid-season games against Hull and Northampton Town or the play-off tie against Blackpool. Mide Shodipo’s last minute winner in the 4-3 victory over Rochdale was a regular mention as was Sam Long’s goal against Plymouth.

The three big ones, however, were Dan Agyei’s goal against Swindon at The County Ground, Sam Long’s winner against Gillingham, and your number one; the final day against Burton and the win that saw us sneak into play-offs. Talk about leaving the best until last.

Midweek fixture: Absolute State of Oxford United 2021 – part 1 – who are you?

So, here we are again, another season creeps ever closer. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so detached from the hullabaloo. Perhaps it’s the heat, the Euros or the pandemic. Maybe it’s the sneaking suspicion that this season won’t bring us back to the good old days, as some are hoping, but something in between those times and where we were last season.

Still, as usual, for the third year, I ran the Oxblogger Absolute State of Oxford United survey, an attempt to set some expectations and benchmarks for the season. My own detachment maybe be mirrored across other fans, if the response rate is anything to go by; less than half who took the survey last year responded this. Perhaps that was because of the distraction of the Euros – this is at the first survey done during a major tournament, or maybe it’s that people are simply bored of the survey.

Whether the lower response makes the results any more or less relevant is another question – from previous experience, the trends that you see from the first bout of responses, pretty much hold true regardless of the eventual turnout. So the 150 or so people who responded have probably given the views of the 300 that completed the survey in the past.

We start with the end of the survey; who are you? Why? Well, this is slow data, stuff which won’t change dramatically from one year to the next, so the results, in a sense are more a bedrock for the rest of the survey and, perhaps, not the most interesting bit. That comes in the next couple of weeks.

The most significant result for me in that section is result that produces the most boring graph; 100% of respondents were white. Now, this is Twitter, not real life and I know that not all Oxford fans are white, but maybe it illustrates that we’re failing to reach a reasonable chunk of our potential fanbase. You might write this off as wokey nonsense, and not believe that a diverse range of views will tend to produce better outcomes than everyone who thinks and acts the same. Maybe you’re not aware of the impact that a lack of diversity in the gene pool has had on our friends up the A420. The reality is that we have diverse owners and players, but not fans, which is a shame. Greater cohesion in relatively benign things like following a football club will have benefits more widely, I’m sure hardcore Brexiteers and Remainers have cheered together over the last five years despite their obvious differences. Why can’t this be true with mixing people with different cultural backgrounds? This isn’t something to ignore. On a purely practical level, we’re missing out on ticket sales and maybe even future players.

The gender split remains pretty static, 92% were male compared to 93% in 2019 when the survey first came out. We continue to get older; we had less responses in all age groups aged 35 and under, a massive 14% drop amongst 16-25 year olds, which may be a Euros effect, or perhaps I need to get myself on Tiktok. At the other end of the spectrum, there were nearly twice as many people aged over 56 than in 2019.

We appear to be getting more loyal; 47% said they go to more than 21 home games a year, up from 37% two years ago. Of course, none of us have been to 21 games in the last year and it might be that the perception of loyalty has grown given how we’ve all been stuck in front of our laptops all season. The number of away games people are getting to is gently falling – although two thirds of people get to 1-10 away games a season – pretty static since 2019 – the number not able to get to any away games has grown from 11% to 16% in the last two years. Again, who knows what the lockdown has done to our perceptions?

If you want to feel old, then as with last year, we have one fan who claims to have started watching us in the 2020s. That’s one person for whom Rob Duffy is a historical character, like Anne Boleyn or Jesus. Unsurprisingly, nearly half our fans started supporting during the 1980s and 1990s with another 21% from the 21st Century. Put another way, 2 in 10 Oxford fans never went to The Manor.

One of the most surprising statistics for me is that more than a third of our fans live more than 50 miles from the stadium. What’s more, there seems to be a gradual drift from the city and therefore the club. Simple things like house prices may be a factor, but it feels like a bit of a long term ticking timebomb. Either we work harder to recruit fans locally – those figures have crept up very slightly – or we have to invest in the club’s broad geographical spread to help ensure loyalty and connection is maintained when the visceral pleasures of attending a game are so far away.

So what conclusions can we draw? In truth, not many, these are trends to keep an eye on, in the micro-world of Oxblogger we’re getting older, we’re moving slightly further away and we’re less diverse, though success appears to be making us more loyal. Although the changes in the numbers are still small, overall, this isn’t healthy and if it is a reflection of the broader fanbase, then these aren’t figures to ignore.

Next week, we’ll reflect on the season just gone, how are you rating the squad, management and directors? Who are you favourite players? And what was your favourite moment of the season?

Midweek fixture – League 1 Kitwatch 2021/22

It wouldn’t be the summer without a slew of new kits. So, once again, I bring you the League 1 kit watch, every new shirt announcement from the third tier.

Accrington Stanley

I’ve not seen it confirmed, but looks like Accrington are sticking with the same kits they had last year.

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton clearly trying to channel the Oxford United promotion squad in 1996 with their new away kit.

Burton Albion

You have to admire Burton’s dedication to the relegated by March look.

Cambridge United

Good. god. A proper tale of three shirts at Cambridge United – the third, white, shirt is a cracker with the Hummel chevrons, the second kit is a reasonable effort with the diagonal pinstripe on the away shirt, but what the heck happened with the nine-designs-in-one effort on the home shirt?

Charlton Athletic

Hummel shirts always have a bit of a head start with the use of the chevron. Mind you, Charlton’s home shirt goes a long way to cocking it up. Those dark bits on the shirt give it a nasty shine feel. The away shirt, however, is top draw.

Cheltenham Town

Cheltenham are sticking with the same home shirt as last season, the away kit is instantly forgettable; the white third kit is very nice.

Crewe Alexandra

These graphical designs are a growing feature of shirts these days; even if does look like a physical manifestation of an anxiety attack. The away kit is from League 1 central designs.

Doncaster Rovers

If in doubt, reverse out. Doncaster have mucked around with their normal red and white hoops to come up with this smasher. The blue away shirt is pretty solid too. The combo is one of the best in the division.

Fleetwood Town

Fleetwood are sticking with last year’s home shirt, the combination with the away shirt is a bit like Fleetwood; instantly forgettable.

Gillingham

Ipswich Town

This year’s Ipswich Adidas number is adorned by the logo of super fan Ed Sheeran, other than that, it’s basically every Ipswich shirt for the last thirty years. Good work on the away shirt.

Lincoln City

Last year Lincoln City were the dark horses in the division, this year will be a different proposition so they’re trying to throw a smokescreen over the issue by looking like a park team.

MK Dons

Morecambe

I’m a bit of a sucker for a sash and a decent sponsor’s font; so I this is a good effort from Morecambe even if the away shirt looks a bit of an after-thought.

Oxford United

Plymouth Argyle

League 1 teams love Puma, they offer an almost endless selection of colours and designs, and yet every single one seems to be the same.

Portsmouth

Pompey sublimating the sleeves of their new home shirt; Nike really showing how billions of pounds design expertise can take shirts to new levels of mediocrity.

Rotherham United

Pinstripe is a big trend this season, Rotherham’s new shirt is masterful in its simplicity. Once again, the away kit is a pretty generic effort. The subtle bra straps offer a nice feminine touch, though.

Sheffield Wednesday

Shrewsbury Town

Sunderland

Wigan Athletic

Wimbledon

Wycombe Wanderers

Midweek fixture – Yellows in the Euros

It may have taken 28 years for Oxford United to make any impression on the European Championships, but when it came, it was explosive; pivoting around a single game, and a single goal, on the 12th June 1988 in Stuttgart.

Before we get to that, some context; Charles Hughes was the FA’s technical director during the 1980s and an acolyte of Wing Commander turned accountant turned football theoretician Charles Reep. Reep observed that most goals resulted from moves of less than four passes and therefore argued that teams should focus on creating what he called POMOs – Positions Of Maximum Opportunity – via what we now know as the long ball or route one.

Hughes was such a robust advocate of direct football he enshrined it in the FA official coaching manual in 1980 and it became a template for a generation of managers including Dave Basset at Wimbledon, Graham Taylor at Watford and Jack Charlton for the Republic of Ireland.

The idea of POMO is flawed; there’s no advantage of playing the long ball; all possession in those days tended to consist of less than four passes, it’s just how football was played. Teams were more potent when they retained possession just they didn’t do it very often. The idea stuck and even today, you’ll hear English football fans channelling Charles Reep by yelling at teams to get the ball in the mixer and stop mucking about.

When Jack Charlton became Republic of Ireland’s manager in 1985 he set about transforming the nation’s hopes based on two principles; a full-hearted commitment to Hughes’ philosophy and the leveraging of the opportunities provided by the Irish diaspora.

The Irish are among the most dispersed in the world, forced by poverty and persecution to find a better life elsewhere. To retain its identity, the Irish government had a liberal interpretation of nationhood. By law, if you had Irish relatives going back three generations, you could apply for citizenship. This helped circumnavigate FIFA’s ‘grandparent’ rule, where players were eligible to play for only their parents or grandparents’ home country. If Charlton could persuade eligible players to apply for Irish nationality, his catchment for talent would grow exponentially.

While some headed to the Americas, and others to Gaelic speaking Scotland, many Irish migrants simply crossed the Irish Sea to settle in Liverpool. One of those was John Aldridge’s great grandmother, Mary Mills, from Athlone.

Two things prevented Aldridge from being the greatest domestic goalscorer of his generation; Gary Lineker and Ian Rush. Lineker was immovable for England, while Rush was the leading striker in club football. Aldridge scored an avalanche of goals for Oxford, but opportunities to go further, particularly internationally, were limited.

Jack Charlton seized his chance, giving Aldridge his international debut in March 1986 against Wales. Prolific wherever he played, Aldridge didn’t quite fit into the long-ball system; his reputation built on poaching goals from six yards out. It took two and a half years and 20 games to score the first of his 19 international goals.

He hadn’t found the net by the time Ireland qualified for Euro 88 in Germany. By this point, Aldridge had moved from Oxford to Liverpool, replacing Rush who had been sold to Juventus. Ireland’s presence was assumed to add some colour to the tournament with their fearsome reputation for drink and an endless appetite for the craic. Ireland were what England could have been if they weren’t so angry and uptight about everything, it’s not surprising Charles Hughes’ ideas gained traction, the English dreary and pragmatic, lacking in romance.

Ireland qualified having scored just ten goals in eight games and thanks to a late Scotland goal against Bulgaria. Nobody considered them to be a threat. England, off the back of a good World Cup in 1986, fancied their chances to go all the way. The two countries were drawn together in Group B and faced each other in their opening game on the third day of the tournament.

Charlton was up against the country he’d won the World Cup with twenty-two years earlier, but somehow seemed more Irish than English. England seemed uncomfortable and on edge, partly because of the constant threat of hooliganism, but also because of the expectation that hung over them. Charlton had an air of chaotic bonhomie and the Irish loved him for it. In a frenzied atmosphere, the Irish entered the fray, backed by thousands of fans, with Aldridge leading the line.

The early moments were a testament to Charles Hughes’ vision; the flow of the game punctuated by petty fouls and aerial duels. After six minutes, a long Kevin Moran free-kick was launched down the left, deep into England territory.

Another former Oxford player, Southampton’s Mark Wright was partnering Tony Adams after Terry Butcher had been ruled out with a broken leg. Wright had played 10 games for Oxford before being transferred to The Dell in a deal which brought Trevor Hebberd and George Lawrence to The Manor. Within two years he’d made his England debut.

Wright was drawn out to firefight down the flank. Apparently spooked by the Irish threat, he clattered his right-back Gary Stevens allowing the ball to run loose to Tony Galvin. Galvin weakly hooked the ball across the penalty area but Wright’s ill-discipline caused panic in the English defence, pulling it out of position, forcing left-back Kenny Sansom into the middle to fill the hole he’d left behind but leaving the back post wide open.

The ball was awkward, bouncing waist high, Sansom lashed at it, sending it high into the air; Aldridge, playing target man, beat Tony Adams in the air nodding it onto the back post where Ray Houghton was arriving at speed.

Houghton may never have been an Irish legend he was if it wasn’t for John Aldridge. Charlton’s focus had been on the striker when he watched him score twice in Oxford’s Milk Cup semi-final first leg draw against Aston Villa. Afterwards, Aldridge introduced Charlton to Houghton joking that his teammate was more Irish than he was.

Houghton, a Glaswegian who’d signed for Oxford the previous summer, had a fractious relationship with the Scottish national team when it became clear that, despite a breakthrough season at The Manor and a goal in the Milk Cup Final, he was unlikely to be considered for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Much to Charlton’s delight, Houghton’s father was from Donegal and therefore eligible for the Republic. Moving quickly, Charlton gave him his debut against Wales alongside Aldridge three weeks later.

Back in 1988, as the ball from Aldridge dropped, Houghton – now also a Liverpool player – burst into the box with his characteristic scuttle. He’d spotted Peter Shilton just off his line and off-centre to the goal, he realised if he could get some elevation on his header, he’d be able to get it over the keeper and into the net. Shilton, playing his 99th game for England, watched helplessly as it sailed over his head for 1-0. The celebrations were wild, it was the defining moment in a defining Irish win. The two ex-Oxford players, with a little help from a third, had ignited a golden age for the Republic on a world stage, one Irish fan said it defined the country for the first time since Irish partition nearly 70 years earlier.

Nestled away on the Irish bench in Stuttgart was Le Havre striker Johnny Byrne. If Aldridge and Houghton were in the right place at the right time, the reverse could be said for Byrne. He’d made his Republic of Ireland debut a few months before Jack Charlton became manager. A mercurial ball playing forward, he didn’t really fit Charlton’s model. Aldridge, Frank Stapleton, Tony Cascarino and Niall Quinn were all ahead of him in the pecking order, Byrne was very much plan B, or perhaps C or D, watching all three games from the sidelines. Things would pick up for him five years later as he spent a memorable couple of years partnering Paul Moody at The Manor.

The defeat was the start of a dismal tournament for England; after losing to the Republic they were humiliated 3-0 by the Netherlands. Wright was rested for the dead rubber against the Soviet Union, which ended in a 3-1 defeat. For Ireland, with Aldridge and Houghton ever-present, a draw with the Soviet Union put them on the verge of qualification, but a late 1-0 defeat, and freak goal, to the Netherlands ended the adventure, if not the wanderlust for more.

The Euros became a recurring nightmare for Mark Wright. In 1992, days before the tournament in Sweden, he aggravated his Achilles and dropped out of the squad. It came so late England weren’t allowed to replace him and he remained an official, if unavailable, squad member. Four years later, in Euro 96, Wright was set to be a surprise pick having worked his way back into contention after two years out of the squad. Two months before the tournament, he strained knee ligaments ruling him out again.

With Mark Wright missing Euro 92, it took until Euro 96 in England for an Oxford presence to re-emerge on the Euro stage. Ian Walker – who’d played three games on loan at The Manor six years earlier – was the perfect nineties footballer with his ‘curtains’ haircut, mock Tudor mansion and page 3 girlfriend. He also had an extraordinary International career that lasted eight years, two European Championships – he was picked again in 2004 – and just four games. In 1996 he played third fiddle to David Seaman and Tim Flowers, eight years later he’d been overtaken by David James and Paul Robinson. It goes without saying, Walker didn’t get a sniff of even the substitutes bench for either tournament.

Memories of Euro 96 are heavily skewed by England’s glorious failure. Elsewhere, the tournament was a bit ho hum; stadiums were half-full and there were few genuine stand out games. Scotland’s tournament was very typical – an encouraging draw with the Netherlands preceded a defeat to England. A win over Switzerland put them on the brink of qualification, but England conceded in a win over the dutch meaning Scotland were edged out on goals scored. On the bench throughout was Scot Gemmil, a disappointment no doubt that was extinguished when he moved to Oxford in 2006 as Jim Smith’s player-coach. He made one substitute appearance at Mansfield, an experience he found so overwhelmingly fantastic he immediately emigrated to New Zealand.

And that was it until this year’s tournament. Leeds United’s Tyler Roberts, who was on loan briefly at Oxford in 2016, is in the Wales squad. After the group games, Roberts – wearing the number nine – remains rooted to the bench. If he does make an appearance in the knock-out stages, he’ll be the first Oxford-related player to have stepped onto the pitch since the 1988 tournament 33 years ago. Given the wait, Charles Hughes may have blighted a generation of English football, but maybe we should be grateful for his flawed theories.