Transfer window: Sills

Looks like Tim Sills is on his way to Exeter, not, it has to be said, the kind of news which will cause Steven-Gerrard-to-Chelsea type apoplexy. The little we’ve seen of Sills suggests he is a classic non-league type footballer; whereby his eloquence in front of the world’s media Radio Oxford far out strips his abilities on the pitch; though there is no doubting the effort and endeavour in his play. For me at least, I prefer watching those players playing for plucky non-league clubs on FA Cup Match of the Day.

Those beneficiaries or victims (depending on how you look at it) of the January asset strip have been in the news; Lee Bradbury has signed a 2 year contract at Southend, Chris Hackett could be on his way to Carlisle, whilst Craig Davies is on the look-out for a new club after Verona told him to get on his bike. Not that any of this goes to further illustrate the nub of last season’s problems, of course.

I reckon we’re down to 10 experienced pros including two goalkeepers and three who are out of contract at the end of the month. I’m not yet advocating a few fan-placating panic buys just yet, but a couple of credible rumours would be nice.

The others

To be honest, I can’t work out who is still in contract and who isn’t, so instead, here’s the rest of the squad as it currently stands.

Billy Turley
He is out of contract but has been offered a new one. Brash, noisy occasionally brilliant (as most of his performance against Leyton Orient proved), also capable of being a supreme dipstick and poor communicator (as the other bits of his performance against Leyton Orient proved).

Chris Tardif
Time And Relative Dimensions In Football… Another one out of contract with an offer on the table. utterly baffling player on all sorts of levels. A great shot stopper, never out of his depth in League 2, never really did anything wrong. Then why did both Brian Talbot and Jim Smith insist on signing keepers to replace him as soon as they arrived. In a league with a wage cap, you’d suspect that either Turley or Tardif next season. Both is a luxury.

Lee Mansell
Scuttles around like he’s terribly busy. His industriousness and enthusiasm won him supporters player of the year last year not his crossing. Difficult to know where to play him.

Barry Quinn
Steady, unspectacular and hard as nails. A good man to have in your team. The third player who has been offered another contract but good enough to find another league club.

Chris Willmott
Built like a brick shit house, sometimes plays like one, but generally looks like a player in control of his surrounds.

Yemi Odubade
A classic panic buy from Eastbourne Borough. Really quick, scares defenders, doesn’t score much, which is what he’s paid to do.

Steve Basham
Scores regularly if not prolifically. As skillful as anyone in the squad, plays with his brain and speaks eloquently when interviewed. Doesn’t have the speed to excite but the team is generally more controlled when he’s playing.

Chris Hargreaves
All action midfielder, lunges in where others fear to lunge. Always chases down the second ball, usually because it’s him whose scuffed the first ball into the path of the oncoming attacker.

Tim Sills
Like Yemi, a panic buy. Seemed a bit soft for a target man given some of the bruts occupying the centre back positions in League 2. Not really up to league standard on his performances so far, although he’s desperate to prove he is.

John Dempster
Showed very little of what he’s got so far due to injury and suspension.

Andy Burgess
Supposed to provide creativity in the middle of the park and clearly is more cultured than most. Provided more quality on set plays but was signed when he’d just recovering from a broken leg and appeared to shirk the odd tackle. Difficult to know whether he’s just a big softy or not.

Tom Winters, Ben Weeden, Tom Franklin
Youth teamers mostly, all probably destined to play in the Premiership… or not… who knows?

Little oxlets

We’ve made our first signing of the close season, albeit professional contracts for some youth teamers. Now, I’d love to be one of those people who can say they spotted Josh Kennett, Andrew Gunn and Billy Beechers when they were in the academy, but to tell you the truth I can’t tell the difference between one youth team player and another.

Bringing on local lads from the mythologised Oxford United Youth System has to be a good thing; it bonds the fans to the players, it’s far less likely that they’ll be cremated on their debut never to be forgiven just for mis-queing a free kick. However one must remain sceptical, a typical youth teamer makes a handful of late substitute appearances, looks quick and direct, and then disappears into obscurity.

Oxford have a history of catapulting players to the top level; John Aldridge, Ray Houghton, Matt Elliot et al all graced The Manor before they moved up to collect pots of silverware and play for their countries, but they were never products of the youth team system. The most successful youth teamers in recent years; Dean Whitehead and Sam Ricketts have both succeeded in spite of the system, not because of it. Whitehead only became the player he was because of the much-maligned Ian Atkins, Ricketts was jettisoned by the U’s before being picked up by Telford, Swansea and then the Welsh national side.

Most youth teamers burn brightly before fading; even the likes of Joey Beauchamp, Bobby Ford and Chris Allen were all great players at Oxford who quickly burned up when they left the fold. In truth most U’s youth players are simply not built for the outside world. Let’s hope these three don’t follow the trend.

Au revoir Eric

Eric Sabin has retired. It perhaps says everything that he is just 31 and rather than play professional football with Oxford he wants to develop a printing career. Perhaps his heart has been broken by relegation, perhaps he can earn more money doing other things. Who knows? I liked Eric during his short stay, he had an enigmatic style about him. A bit of the Thierry Henry; black, French, intelligent and quick as a flash. Perhaps this is why so much was expected of him. Many times the Oxford Mail Stand would rise to its feet as one as Eric would glide past the opposition’s hapless right back only to overrun the ball and watch it roll harmlessly into the hands of the keeper. Though goals did come (9 in 34 starts) they were usually a scuffed half chance or tap in. Completely out of kilter with his otherwise stylish approach play.

Aside from the touch, he just didn’t seem to have the requisite nasty streak that gets goals in League 2, nor was he a player you could imagine chugging down the wing at Leigh RMI. He existed in a footballing netherworld between the league he couldn’t quite set alight and the Conference he was too classy for. Perhaps this where his enigma came from. Perhaps its a testament to his style and grace that he’s walking away now rather than tumbling down the leagues under the delusion that one day, and with a decent break, he’ll grace the highest echelons of the game.

Who were ya?

Everyone loves a good cull, it’s good for the soul, especially after relegation. During the close season its as heartening as a new signing. Eight have gone so far, with one other 99% certain to go, here’s the role of dishonour:

Jamie Brooks
Looked set to follow the lineage of Joey Beauchamp and Dean Whitehead, as a local boy done good. Struck down with Guillain Barre Syndrome just before a trial with Arsenal a five years ago. It nearly killed him and less importantly wrecked his career. Sad, but no surprise to seem him go.

Matt Robinson
A stalwart of nearly 200 games who was at his best going forward. Excellent, and occasionally brilliant, when we were excellent, listless when we weren’t. Seemed like a nice bloke, which may have ultimately resulted in his downfall.

Leo Roget
Probably on his way because of wages. Horrendous first season which seemed to coincide with the birth of his first child. Often found dozing at the back. He was as dependable as anyone in his second season. There were even rumours he was in line for a World Cup call up with Trinidad and Tobago, although that might simply have been his agent stoking the rumour mill in preparation for his imminent departure.

Player of promise. None of it shown at Oxford. Looked a lightweight, probably a demon in training.

Stuart Gray
One of those squad players who could have been signed at Christmas or six years ago for all I can remember. Badly injured at the start of the season, appeared only fleetingly without much impact. Very bandy legged.

Jon Ashton
Quick, aggressive central defender, prone to breaking and re-breaking his nose. Prone also to cataclysmic errors at crucial times in games.

Bradie Clark
Played only occasionally but way behind Billy Turley and Chris Tardif in the goalkeeping pecking order. No surprise to see him move on. Much improved hairstyle this season.

Warren Goodhind
Doesn’t really count as he was only ever on loan anyway. Really failed to make any impact at all, although I sat behind his wife/girlfriend during the Bristol Rovers game.

Lee Bradbury
Part of the criminal asset stripping at Christmas which saw Craig Davies go to Verona and Chris Hackett to Hearts. Bradbury was shipped off to Southend to avoid triggering a contract clause which would have seen him signed up for another year. Bradbury was no bona fide match winner, but he had a touch of class that helped steady the ailing ship. We ended the season with a defensive record better than 12 other teams, but only 2 teams in the entire league scored less. Bradbury, Hackett and Davies were strikers. Go fig.

Dead cat bounce

This is a chronicle of the march to a Champions League final. Well, I hope so. Though, in truth, I doubt it. On May 6th 2006 Oxford United were confirmed as the 91st best team in the country. Sadly, this also means the second worst team in the football league. With it came the ignominy of relegation out of the football league into the Nationwide Conference.

Their last game was the best the 12,500 all seater Kassam Stadium has ever seen. A ripsnorting 2-3 defeat in front of a capacity crowd which was supplemented by hundreds of people peering in the stadium’s gaping open end. It was a game of high drama and tension which ended in catastrophe. To have hit the bottom in this way seems like a good place to start a new blog on the subject.

At least I assume it’s the bottom. Oxford’s highs have been fairly stratospheric for a club of its size, in 1985 it was promoted to what is now called the Premier League, they won the 1986 Football League Cup in front of 100,000 people at Wembley. Now they are winners of the world’s biggest dwarf competition, occupying a league where a crowd of 1,000 is deemed good going. Oxford could indeed fall further down the ‘Non-League Pyramid’ though beyond the Conference, I’ve no idea what that’s made up of.

The story of how Oxford hit the bottom will no doubt fill up this blog during the dark winter months, but in the meantime, we will while away the summer months depicting the preparations for next season and musing on what might happen.