Midweek fixture: 6 steps to surviving a pandemic as an Oxford fan

The government has paused its programme to return fans to stadiums pretty much wiping out the prospect of going to a game in October, and let’s face it, for some time beyond that. There are all sorts of implications for this, not least financial. But, in addition, it’s clearly a blow to the mental and social wellbeing of the club and those within it. Fans, players, owners and managers alike have been skittled by the news. While I can’t claim to have all this figured out, here are some ideas for dealing with the next few months as an Oxford fan.

Accept where you are 

When Chris Wilder criticised Oxford fans for romanticising the Milk Cup win in 1986 some thirty years earlier, he was slated by all who heard him. He was also right. We were a Conference team, our standards had slipped and the sooner we understood that, the sooner we’d sort the problem out. Epidemics are not unusual, nor pandemics; they’ve been less widespread – as with MERS, or more deadly as with Spanish flu, but they’re really quite common and most generations will have to deal with one. The faster you accept it and take action, the quicker it’s over. You can fight the reality by looking for data to prove what you want – that this is some kind of trivial seasonal flu or a government conspiracy. You can find research that proves masks are useless or damaging. But, this where we are, at nature’s behest until science comes to our rescue. A story as old as time. As an Oxford fan it means the prospect of empty stadiums and streaming services for months to come, it’s not like it was, it’s not like it will be, but it is like it is today. A friend of mine once taught me a trick about cycling up a steep hill – there is a point where you drop to your lowest gear and the bike can’t help anymore, for a while it’s going to be painful, but not forever. Accept it, then get pedalling.

Don’t beat yourself up about missing football

Football is often trivialised because of its omnipresence; the money, commercialism, the endless analysis and discussion. We are frequently reminded of times when football is ‘put into perspective’ as though it has got above its station. There are people dying and you’re sad about missing football? That’s gauche and distateful. But, football clubs are social institutions affecting thousands of people which are centuries old. Oxford United as an institution that has lived through Spanish Flu, two World Wars and countless local, national and global crises. It gives people purpose and structure, its resilience gives them hope. These are institutions that suffer glory and tragedy, riches and poverty, they ebb and flow and pulsate and they still survive. You’re part of that success, like generations of people before you. It’s fine to be proud of it and to miss it and to want to protect it. The reason it keeps going is because it means something; it is possible to simultaneously be concerned about people dying and the absence of football and to be no less a person because of it.  

Acknowledge what you have

The world is full of self-help books, a majority of them encourage you to ditch your past and create an often unattainable future. You change everything, transform your eating, ditch your bad habits and get increasingly miserable, so you take a break and all the things you were trying to rid yourself of come creeping back. You’re missing football, you’re missing the game, the routine, the little joys. You’re casting back to those memories, you cast forward to a time when it’s all over. And you want it to happen soon. But how are you now? Alive? Safe? Warm? Build from there. The club and social network that springs from it still exists. You still have the experiences that the club has given you – Nathan Holland’s last minute equaliser against Newcastle, Ryan Ledson slamming home at Charlton – indulge in that. If your mind wanders and your regrets and hopes and anxieties eat away, then stop and check. Are you OK now?

Find the next step

If there’s one overriding criticism I have of Boris Johnson it’s his endless hyperbole. Every financial pledge is ONE HUNDRED MILLION POUNDS, every initiative will be world beating, everything will be fixed by Christmas, if not next Tuesday. Not only does that simply serve to constantly disappoint, it fails to deal with the next step which is, in fact, the most important. You might want to be in the East Stand screaming yourself horse with your friends, or travelling 165 miles for a drab goalless draw on a Tuesday night, but that’s not the next step. The next step might be to indulge an hour or six in Oxford United’s kit history, listen to a podcast, watch the goals from the 95/96 season on YouTube, you might even re-read old posts from this blog. If it brings you joy, that’s your next step. If you can afford it, buy a match pass for a game, or a new shirt, or an old shirt, or some other old tat, or just listen to the commentary on Saturday on the radio. Keep taking the next step, then, one day someone will announce a test event, and you might get to go to that, then an increase in capacity and then, step by step towards something we call normality. And, my goodness, imagine what that’ll feel like. But, for now, just focus on taking the next step.

Act collectively

You see it all the time, the old blaming the young, the young blaming the old, the left blaming the right, the right blaming the left, even the healthy dismissing the sick as cannon fodder. Blame is often placed on a faceless, nameless, probably non-existent ‘other’ – they’re not using their common sense, they’re not waking up to the tyranny. So, rather than blaming other people or acting on your personal instincts, stick with the yellow army. Social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, limiting contact with others. Like you would turn up to a game for kick-off, sing in unison, contribute personally to a collective success. Do it for other fans and for the benefit of the club; because the club is made up of the young and old, the right and left, the sick and healthy. Do it for the people who retell stories of Joey Beauchamp, Jim Smith and Ron Atkinson, do it for the people who fill the stands with flags and banners to make the best atmosphere in the country. Do it for the joke on the train going to an away game which makes you laugh even though you know it shouldn’t. Do it for the old couple who find themselves at the bottom of a bundle from a last minute goal at Portsmouth. If you can’t bring yourself to do it for the people you blame; do it for the club.

Know it will get better

If there’s one thing that being an Oxford fan tells you it’s that you have to always believe that things will improve. I’ve sat in the Kassam car park staring through my windscreen at the those trudging through the turnstiles wondering why I bother. I’ve seen hundreds of games of football and, frequently, I’ve walked out of the ground having seen them lost. I know that I’ll be back the following week, looking forward to a win. Then imperceptibly, it does start to get better, a win becomes two, two become five, form becomes promotion. Then before you know it you find yourself in a full stadium watching Chris Maguire breaking from a corner sliding the ball to Kemar Roofe to chip home for a famous cup win, or Sam Deering and Alfie Potter exchanging passes on the way to redemptive glory at Wembley, or you catch yourself, eyes bulging, ashen faced, unburdened of your money, work and family stresses, gulping for air as a primordial guttural scream, the likes of which you could never muster voluntarily, cascades from your gaping mouth as down below Toni Martinez knee slides towards you and thousands of others who are hundreds of miles from home, pursued by his team mates in a moment of unified ecstasy. That’s the memory, that’s the moment. From Stafford and Merthyr to Swansea and Middlesborough. Remember, it will always get better.

Midweek fixture: Absolute State of Oxford United Survey 2020 – Part 3 – The predictions

Having established who you are, and how you’re feeling, with days until the new season (proper), it’s time to look at the results of the Absolute State of Oxford United and the season ahead of us. How will we do? Where will we finish? What will happen?

The big question is where in the league will we finish? 23% think we’ll get automatic promotion with another 49% seeing us in the play-offs. Most votes went for second, but there was another peak around 6th.

There’s a lot of competition in the division, Wigan are your favourites – although a proportion of those votes came before the full horrors of their administration really became clear. Portsmouth were the next most popular choice followed by Peterborough.

The relegation vote was somewhat skewed by the existence of a certain team from Wiltshire. 76 of you saw them finishing bottom, but there’s not a whole lot of objectivity in that. Others expected to struggle are Rochdale and Wimbledon. 

Putting the two together – one vote for a championship prediction, minus one for a relegation; Wigan and Portsmouth are set to to be promoted with Peterborough, Hull, Ipswich Town and Sunderland making the play-offs. The relegation places will go to Swindon, Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon and Crewe, as a result we will finish 8th.

What this seems to show is that while there’s a lot of confidence in our own ability, the real question is how good are we compared to others. What may give us some hope is looking at the teams above us; in addition to Wigan, Portsmouth, Hull, Sunderland and Charlton are all carrying significant baggage with them. While it’s unlikely they’ll all blow, we can probably expect a few to falter.

1Wigan Athletic60
2Portsmouth51
3Peterborough46
4Hull City34
5Ipswich Town31
6Sunderland25
7Charlton Athletic24
8Oxford United17
9Fleetwood Town4
10Blackpool3
11Bristol Rovers0
12Doncaster Rovers-1
12Lincoln City-1
14Plymouth Argyle-2
14Shrewsbury Town-2
16Burton Albion-4
17Gillingham-5
18MK Dons-20
19Accrington-21
20Northampton Town-23
21Crewe Alexandra-26
22AFC Wimbledon-53
23Rochdale-57
24Swindon-76

Success in both cup competitions last year has driven a renewed sense of optimism. In the FA Cup 49% think we’ll make the 4th Round with another 44% in the 5th round. Last year the expectation was that we’d make the 3rd Round.

In the League Cup – remembering that the vote came in before the win over Wimbledon – 33% expected us to make the 3rd Round, which is a step on from last year, when nearly half (48%) thought we’d make the second round. 1% think we’ll make it all the way to Wembley; you’ve got to admire the optimism.   

Hopes for the season

In terms of hopes for the season, there were some common themes. Whatever happens in next season’s derby fixtures, it’s clear that this represents only the fifth most important thing in fans’ eyes.

Promotion

The biggest theme was the hope that we’d gain promotion. Last year’s run to the play-off final has clearly whetted the appetite and there’s a wrong to be righted. Going one better than last season is the one thing, above all others, that fans want to see. 

Stadium

Everyone’s favourite hope surrounded the resolution of the stadium situation. There’s a mixed view as to whether a new stadium or buying the Kassam offers the best opportunities, but getting it sorted one way or the other remains the eternal dream for many fans.

General progress

More generally, people want to see progress. There is a clear contentedness about the progress the club has made in the last 18 months, and more of the same, regardless of whether that results in promotion or not, is a hope many want to see.

A return to normality

Perhaps more profoundly; there was a desire to return to some kind of normality. Getting back to games is a priority, with a tacit recognition that this is likely to be in a limited way initially. The return to normality wasn’t just focussed on our own situation, there’s a real hope that the financial damage to clubs around us isn’t too deep and that the economic effects of the pandemic don’t cut too deep. 

Nine in a row

And of course, it probably goes without saying that another derby double is still high on the agenda of hopes for the forthcoming year. While there is the expected bravado and confidence that clocking up wins number eight and nine is inevitable, many do recognise that the run is probably closer to ending than starting, but six more points would still be nice, wouldn’t it?

Predictions

Asking about predictions often gets similar answers to asking about hopes. Also, collating the predictions of more than 300 people means that you get a prediction for every possible scenario – the infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters theory. None-the-less, these were the themes:

Fans

There are mixed views about when we’ll get to see a game in real life, October is the earliest prediction with the latest being February. One predictor is not expecting to see a game live all season. Even if there is a return, the prediction is that crowds won’t top 4000 all year. As for away games, many don’t expect to be on the road until after Christmas, or not at all. Quite a few are predicting that the season will be interrupted again.

Players

Some predictions already seem out of date; Matty Taylor has signed as predicted by some and not others, he just now just needs to fulfil the prophecy of 20-30 goals. Liam Kelly did sign as expected (although many predicted on a permanent deal). Plenty is expected of Dan Agyei with one person predicting 15-20 goals while Rob Atkinson is also predicted to emerge as a key talent. 

Those predicting that Cameron Brannagan would be sold were off the mark, though its still conceivable he’ll go in January as some think. A few people are expecting the return of Marcus Browne either on loan or permanently, and probably in January.

Most people predicted that Rob Dickie would be sold, though the expected price was £3-4m, which appears off the mark. For the record, he didn’t end up in the Premiership, specifically not with Southampton.

Another player mentioned in dispatches was Simon Eastwood, one person is expecting him to be ousted as our first choice keeper, while another thinks he’ll move back north before the season is out. We’ll see.

Off the field

There is a general prediction of financial chaos across the divisions, but there’s a mixed view as to what that’ll mean for us. Some think there will be another winding up order, while others are looking forward to a cash injection into the club. 

Of all the management predictions, Karl Robinson leaving was the most predominant. With a four year contract signed, that seems increasingly unlikely, though if a Championship club comes knocking – as some have predicted – it may still be a different story.

Stadium

Naturally, the biggest off-the-field issue is the stadium and once again, everyone is predicting everything. We will buy the stadium, build a fourth stand, build a new stadium or nothing will happen at all. Someone is clearly right, the question is, who?

Matches

Obviously, most predictions around specific games focussed on the two Swindon games; while many are confident of a good result, there is a large minority expecting us to falter. Someone predicted there would be a 1-1 draw with Sunderland while another predicted yet another cup game against Manchester City. 

In the league more generally, most are predicting a rollercoaster season of ups and downs. One thinks the final game of the season will feature 10 teams with a chance of the play-offs, while dark horses such as Lincoln, Gillingham or Bristol Rovers are predicted to upset the apple cart. Most are expecting a tight tussle, one person predicted that at Christmas, the top 10 will be separated by just 2 points. At the other end, one person is expecting relegation to be determined completely by points deductions.

Other

In other news, we’ll have a red away kit – not yet, but apparently there’s a third shirt in the offing – and Jerome Sale will win commentator of the year, though presumably that’s only if he avoids swearing on air in frustration, as one has foreseen.

And that’s it; all the collective wisdom of Oxford United fans laid bare. All that’s left to do is to let the season commence and see what happens. Good luck everyone.

Midweek fixture: Absolute State of Oxford United results (part 2) – The ratings

Following last week’s revelation from the Absolute State of Oxford United 2020 survey that not much has changed in the profile respondents, when it comes to how they feel, it’s a different story.

The data looks over three surveys; last summer, a smaller mid-season edition and this summer; the change of fortunes on the pitch is clearly reflected in the sentiment off it.

There’s been a significant upswing in positivity following a season which got us to the edge of the Championship. At the end of the 2018/19 season we were coming into some form but had spent a good proportion of the year fighting relegation as well as winding up orders, as a result, the overall rating of the club was 6.7. Twelve months later and the mood has risen to 8.3. This is a slight drop from mid-season, by which point we were pushing into the automatic promotion spots and advancing in the cups.

Karl Robinson’s approval rating is even higher; last year he scored just 6.1, which has now lept up to 8.9. This is an improvement even on the 8.4 he achieved at Christmas. Robinson’s rating is one of the few areas which has seen growth with each survey.

The quality of the squad has also grown, but more moderately from 6.2 to 7.7, though it peaked at 8.3 mid-season. You would expect the directors of the club to lag behind the players and manager in terms of ratings; people will always want more from their owners, and so dragging their rating up another notch is likely to be much harder. But still, their rating grew from 4.9 to 7.6 a slight drop from 7.7 mid-season. 

This has more significance when you look at the rating as an index; the initial survey score becomes a baseline (with a standard rating of 100) then you can measure the relative rises and falls from that base. This helps remove some of the inbuilt biases in each category, perhaps a bit more sympathy towards players and that directors are always likely to rate lower than other areas. Using this method, the directors index score for the end of the season was – 154.9 representing the biggest growth of all areas. 

The result is a much stronger relationship between the fans and the club, now rated at 8.1 from 5.0 – an index score of 162.1. I look at this score as an amalgam of all the others, showing that we’re stronger than the sum of our parts with Karl Robinson proving the key driver.

Reflecting on the progress of the club, 63.8% of people think it’s considerably better than it was five years ago, a huge leap forward from just 18.1% last year. The pessimists have evaporated; last year nearly a third of respondents considered the situation worse than five years ago, including 7.8% thinking it was ‘considerably worse’. A year on and just 1% consider it slightly worse with none considerably worse.

Casting forward however, there seems to be a degree of caution. Last year 9.1% thought things might be worse in five years time, which has dropped to 4.1%. However those who think it will be considerably better grew modestly from 17.0% to just 17.6% – which could be a recognition that the club is reaching the limit of its real potential. To go further would require resolution to bigger, structural issues such as the stadium?

Cameron Brannagan was the fans’ favourite player and despite a moderate second half to the season, he grew his proportion of the vote from 18.4% to 19.3%. Last year Gavin Whyte romped home with 31.7% of the vote, his votes were shared around this year. Rob Dickie saw the biggest jump from 0.3% to 17.7%. The biggest loser was Simon Eastwood who last year picked up 11.9% of the vote, but scraped in 11th with 1% of the vote. 

In terms of most improved player, Mark Sykes picked up the most votes followed by Rob Dickie and Sam Long. Dan Agyei had a strong showing in 4th.

Reading through your nominations for moments of the season was a joy, every now and then someone would throw up a moment I’d long forgotten like the League Cup win over Sunderland, Matt Taylor’s equaliser against Manchester City or the 3-3 draw with Coventry. In the end there were three truly outstanding moments; the win over West Ham in September and Josh Ruffels’ last minute winner at Shrewsbury both showed strongly, but it was Nathan Holland’s last minute howitzer against Newcastle in the FA Cup which sneaked home in first.

So, as the new season approaches, there has been a surge in positivity. There are significant challenges in maintaining that momentum, including the endless challenge of getting better with each season and the physical and emotional distance between the club and fans. Next week, we’ll look at where you think we’ll be in 12 months time with all your predictions.

Midweek fixture: Absolute State of Oxford United survey 2020 – the results (part 1 – who are you?)

The results are in for this year’s Absolute State of Oxford United survey. Big thanks to the 313 people who took part, a solid 5% increase on last year. 

As with last year, the plan is to look at the results in blocks – in the next couple of weeks I’ll look at the ratings of the club and then predictions for next season. First though, it’s useful to get some context. So in part one, I’m looking at the profile of who responded.

The big question is whether the result is representative, difficult to say, it’s likely to be bias towards younger people given that most of the traffic to the survey comes from Twitter. That said, the demographics aren’t alien to what you might typically see on a normal match day.

Whereas in the coming weeks we’ll look at movements over a year. You wouldn’t expect the fan profile to shift dramatically, but it’s useful to keep tabs on these things. 7% of respondents were female, a rise of 1% on last year. This is good news, but though it’s not possible to say whether it’s a sustainable trend. This will only become clearer in 5-10 years time.

For the first time I asked about ethnicity. I wasn’t sure whether this was a good idea in the context of Black Lives Matter and all that. I could have predicted the result – 98% consider themselves white (including those claiming their ethnicity to be English, Irish and Jewish). In short, there are more black players in our current first team squad than in the 313 who responded to the survey. 

Diversity is not simply some kind of ‘woke’ crusade as it’s often cast. One day I’ll try to cover why a diverse fanbase leads to a more effective club, but let’s look at an even simpler reason to diversify. On average there are 130,000 vacant seats at home League games a season meaning which represents around £3 million pounds a year in ticket revenue. How do you fill those seats? We could keep trying to find white males – the core market – though many of the unconverted will already be invested in their chosen club. Alternatively we could mine for fans amongst the 350,000 women in the county, or the 60,000 non-white people. In simple economic terms, a wider engagement will lead to a healthier club. Understanding the barriers that prevent women and BAME people from attending games should produce financial benefits.

There’s a mixed picture when it comes to the age profile – there was a 2% increase in respondents for both under-16 and 16-25 years old suggesting that last year’s successes could be bringing in some much needed younger fans. However, there was also a 4% increase in those aged 56-65, implying there’s an ageing fanbase. All this is at the expense of the 36-54 age range; as the group most likely to introduce their children to the club, this isn’t could imply a problem further down the line.

If you want to feel old, then look at the statistics around when people felt they became an Oxford fan. There’s been a 7% increase in people who say they started following the club in 2010. Around a third of our fans will never have been to The Manor and there was one respondent who said they started following the club in the 2020s – there’s not many, but they walk amongst us.

42% of respondents attend more than 21 home games a season, a 5% increase, suggesting growing loyalty, presumably drawn in by the on-field success of last year. This is mostly at the expense of the casual fan who attends 1-10 games which has dropped 8%. This is a good sign, though casual fans are still important.

Half of respondents consider the East Stand their home with 28% the South Stand. This shows a bit of a migration with a 6% increase in East Stand mirrored in a 6% drop in the South Stand. Perhaps an impact of pricing differentiation? Those in the North Stand and those who move around stayed around the same.

The profile of our away following hasn’t changed at all with 67% making 1-10 away games and 4% more than 21. In both cases a shift of less than 1% from last year.  

Last year I was surprised to see that 35% of fans live more than 50 miles from the stadium, by far the biggest proportion. That’s dropped very slightly with a 3% increase in people living under 10 miles from the ground and 2% between 11-20 miles. It still represents something of a challenge. If you’ve got a couple of hours of driving to get to a home game, it wouldn’t take much to stop you from doing that. Local engagement seems to be a priority for the club.

This stuff is a slow burner, change is likely to come over long periods won’t necessarily be reflected in the data for years to come. As I see it, there are opportunities, not just to change for the sake of it, but to broaden our appeal and increase chances of future success. In reality, this is the context, it gives us a base to work with over the next couple of weeks. Next week will look at how you rate the club, manager, players and your favourite moments from last season.

Midweek Fixture: Book review – Legacy, James Kerr

The lockdown offered an opportunity for the club to delve into its little black book and launch its own podcast. Prominent among the guests were the alumni of the 2015/16 season with Joe Skarz, Alex MacDonald, Chey Dunkley and Johnny Mullins all featuring. 

One of the recurring themes that came from those interviews was Michael Appleton’s obsession with the book Legacy; an analysis of The All Blacks dominance of international rugby, a book he himself referenced on the For the Love of the Game podcast. So what’s it all about?

Spend any time around executive training and you’ll eventually hear a management consultant quoting Tom Peters as though they’ve discovered the lost sea scrolls and not someone whose book sales rank alongside JK Rowling. Management advice is everywhere, and in reality, most centres on sugaring the pill of recurring lessons to make them palatable for their intended audience. Legacy is mostly a compendium of standard management tropes shone through the lens of the compelling story of the All Blacks, one of the most famous and successful teams in the world. 

The book doesn’t quite dive to the heart of the All Blacks’ success – direct quotes are limited, it’s more an observers view, which makes for a more clinical read. That said,  perhaps the heart of their success is less mystical than people would like to perceive. Sport is full of talk of ‘talent’ and ‘genius’ whereas success is often drawn from structure and process; that’s a key message here. 

The All Blacks do have a bit of a head start, they’re massively well funded and revered, finding more money and resources to do more things is, perhaps not easy, but not that hard. 

The story starts with the relative failure of the All Blacks quarter-final defeat to France in the 2007 Rugby World Cup. By this point the squad was consumed in its own self-importance; poor discipline and unprofessional behaviour could be explained away because they were the mystical and untouchable All Blacks. But it was rotten and underperforming. There was disillusionment within as well, the whole concept of being an All Black was becoming a reality TV show; even doing the iconic haka was a meaningless chore.

If there’s a parallel, and Michael Appleton has spoken about this, the Oxford team he inherited in 2014 was a ragtag of grafters. Chris Wilder’s ambition had been stymied by a lack of investment and slowly the team was decaying, what he was achieving was remarkable, but still moderate. There’s an entertaining edition of the official podcast with Michael Raynes and Tom Newey, where they discuss the life of a workaday lower league pro; the game is about looking for another contract, creating the illusion of being in demand when in reality they’ll go anywhere that pays. By 2014 any significant ambition at the club had gone.

Appleton talks about inheriting a squad full of players who had experienced relegation, and the general acceptance of that being part and parcel of being a lower league pro. As a result he set about transforming the culture with Legacy offering a template.

A lot of what you’ll have heard on the podcasts is lifted directly from the book. The most compelling was the All Blacks’ idea of ‘leaving the jersey in a better place’, which was particularly evident in the recruitment strategy employed under Appleton. The club was no longer for the Neweys and Raynes’, pragmatically picking up another contract before moving on. The players Appleton wanted saw beyond that; he wanted players who would improve themselves by investing everything in the shirt and the club. The likes of John Lundstram, Kemar Roofe and Ryan Ledson invested heavily in the club, making a personal step forward before passing their shirt onto the next recipient. Quite literally, the number 4 shirt was held by Michael Raynes in 2013/14, who passed it onto Kemar Roofe, then to John Lundstram. The shirt – the purpose of a player being at the club – being left in a better place, creating a legacy.

Lundstram passed it onto Mike Williamson.

There are other ideas – a devolved management structure where a group of leaders were created from the squad to keep the group in check and resolve its own problems. It meant that the culture wasn’t reliant on a single person and that the team owned their issues and more importantly, the solutions. Jake Wright was at the heart of it, and you’ll hear his name come up regularly as a driving force in the club. But also, there were players like Sam Long – younger and on the margin of the squad, but local and perhaps closer to the fans with a better sense of what the club was about. There is clearly a lot of support for Long at the club even now, despite injuries, the club have stuck with him, which clearly paid dividends last season. 

Another driving principle was a ‘no dickheads’ policy; a rehashing of the adage that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, FIFO is another articulation – ‘fit in or fuck off’. ‘No dickheads’ is simply not allowing disruptive influences to infiltrate the squad. No matter how good a player might be, if they behave at odds with the culture of the whole, they move on. Alex MacDonald let slip that ‘Armand’ (Gnanduillet, presumably) was a player who fell foul of the policy. It might be reasonable to assume Dan Crowley was also in that camp and perhaps even Liam Sercombe in 2017 when he rapidly fell out of favour after the JPT Final. Even MacDonald himself was moved on when, by his own admission, he let his standards slip. It’s not a reflection of the individual, but their compatibility with the driving culture. It’s an unforgiving environment, but you can’t deny its success.

There’s little doubt that Legacy provides an insight into the culture instilled by Appleton at Oxford. He was well supported financially, but there was a depth to his work, which is often overlooked. We’re still benefitting from it now. 

It did make me wonder whether the fans have a similar culture. The All Blacks have is an evolving rule book which every player gets, it describes what being an All Black is, and how to behave. It’s part of ‘improving the jersey’. Imagine a club where the fans are committed to improving the club for the next generation, imagine what it could achieve. There’s another concept explored early on: ‘cleaning the sheds’, never being too big to do the small things. After every game the All Blacks clean their own dressing room before leaving. It plays to the idea that your value is in what you leave behind – a tidy dressing room, as well as an outstanding performance, being the legacy of an All Blacks visit – far more impressive than a mess and a loss. Can you imagine not only walking away from the County Ground with three points, but with absolutely no reason for Swindon fans to complain about you because of how you behaved? That would drive them mad. The atmosphere created by the fans during 2015-2017 was phenomenal, as good as any in the country, particularly when you consider our size, but sadly it hasn’t been sustained which is a shame; perhaps the fans could think a bit more about their own legacy. 

Midweek fixture: The 2019/2020 season in numbers

This weekend should have been the first weekend of the season, but we’re still recovering from last season and the big kick-off still a month away. Who knows whether we’re back in pre-season training or likely to play any friendlies? With the echoes of last season still with us, just about, here’s a quick statistical wrap up.

Our last regular game of the season at Shrewsbury in March saw us hit maximum short term (five game) form for the first time since Karl Robinson joined us. 

Though this only shows short term form, it’s no freak, looking at more long term – a rolling 46 game points total – the Shrewsbury game saw us peak at 81 points. It’s worth noting that although we were on the way up, 81 points would typically be good enough for a play-off place so the idea that we were genuinely deserving of an automatic place is not a strong one.

At a match-by-match level, the season’s success was built on possession. Our average possession was 57%, going as high as 80%, ironically against Wycombe, in December. We also moved the ball around; completing, on average, 144 more passes per game than our opponents. Against Rochdale we completed 627 passes, the highest of the season, against Wycombe we completed 425 passes more, which is particularly remarkable given that they were league leaders. Passing accuracy was also high – 77% on average versus our opponents who averaged 64%. Against Rochdale and Wycombe our passing was 90% accurate.  

Of course all that passing doesn’t mean anything if you’re not ready to shoot. If you don’t shoot you don’t score, as they say. The giddy period around September and October was the obvious peak of our powers; not only were we creating chances, we were getting them on target. On average 36% of shots were on target, peaking at 67% against Tranmere. Against MK Dons in December, we managed 13 shots, with only one on target; accuracy of 8%.

The dirtiest team in the division were Southend at home who committed 20 fouls, though with only 1 yellow card. Against MK Dons we committed 26 fouls twice our season average of 13. Those with a good memory will recall the man in black was one Trevor Kettle. We were generally good boys with no red cards, maxing out at four bookings on five separate occasions. MK Dons and Accrington both had five bookings. There were five red cards for our opponents all season. 

For trends, we tend to look at the league because the cups throw up lots of anomalies. We only had 36% of possession and 226 fewer passes against West Ham in the League Cup, and, even our passing accuracy was lower. But, we created more chances – 17 – with nine on target, and four goals. Against Hayes and Yeading we completed 609 passes – which was more than two passes for each of theirs. We also created 31 shooting chances.

Against Manchester City we completed 334 passes to their 672, they maintained an accuracy of 88%, but we matched them in both shots (18) and shots on target (4). The dynamics of cup games are completely different so it’s difficult to draw any proper conclusions. 

For completeness, the play-offs threw up some curious stats. Against Portsmouth in the first leg we had 45% of the possession – low for us – completing 336 passes – nearly 100 passes fewer than average and lower than our league game in November. Things improved in the second leg with 502 passes and 66% accuracy.

In the final, we had 77% possession and 531 passes with 82% accuracy, statistically, this was the fourth best performance of the season. We were a bit below par in terms of shots, and shots on target, but critically Wycombe had five chances, four on target and scored two goals. They play like a relegation team with results like a promotion team; a true freak of nature.

Josh Ruffels was our only ever present in the league with Rob Dickie one behind. Fifteen players scored in the league. Simon Eastwood kept 12 clean sheets, three more than the previous season. 

What does it all mean? Hard to tell, there’s no obvious correlation between statistics and results, but it’s only one data set. Perhaps comparing one season to another will give some clues about form.