Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Newcastle United 3

The Kassam Stadium has been corralled by big trucks, small trucks, trucks with small satellite dishes, trucks with big satellite dishes, trucks whose only purpose, you imagine, is to transport other trucks. The BBC doesn’t do much football, but when it does, it stays done.

Pitchside, the FA Cup sits proudly on a plinth. There are blinding arc lights with three cameramen filming three people. One is undeniably Michael Appleton, his cheekbones defined in the bright light. There’s another bald pundit who turns out to be Alan Shearer. Master of Ceremonies is Gabby Logan looking part human rights lawyer, part stay-at-home mum; both an every-woman and no woman you’ve ever met.

In between short bursts of football chat she’s riffles through a clipboard straining to hold a mountain of paperwork. It’s difficult to imagine what it contains. A make-up artist jumps in enthusiastically to brush her hair, Logan doesn’t flinch, it’s all part of the job. Nobody gets the Mr Muscle out to buff Appleton or Shearer’s bald pates.

In between the rabble, the club’s SLO, Kath Faulkner weaves her way through a mountain of people busying herself uploading another vignette from the team’s warm up to social media. And there’s Chris Williams looking like a nightclub bouncer, who with Martin Brodetsky – Oxford United’s Waldorf and Statler – represent the very soul of the club.

Around the pitch the fancy flashing advertising boards are back promoting our game against Accrington Stanley, £20 replica shirts and prescription-free Viagra. We have a sleeve sponsor for the night that fixes scuffed trainers.

It’s clear the club is operating at the edges and perhaps beyond its current capacity. This is the fourth Premier League team we’ve faced this season, the second prime-time live TV game and the sixth 10,000-plus crowd. Emotionally, it feels like we’re at breaking point.

The mood is confident rather than arrogant or apprehensive. Ticketing and the close proximity to the first game means that most of the regulars around me are sat slightly out of position. It’s like when the binmen leave number seven’s wheelie-bin outside number nine and number nine’s food bin in number 22’s garden, everything is familiar but slightly confusing.

Three seats next to me are vacant until moments before kick-off. Normally they’re occupied by season ticket holders, but seconds before kick-off people I’ve never seen before turn up sporting half-and-half scarves.

I’ve made my peace with half-and-half scarves, they’re no different to souvenir programmes and if those attending get an ounce more enjoyment out of their experience from buying one, then that’s a small step closer to them coming back.

It becomes evident that the lady sat next to me is, in fact, a Newcastle fan. She sings quietly and un-self-consciously along with the Toon fans in the North Stand. It turns out she lived near Kevin Keegan back in the 80s, but I guess everyone from Newcastle says that.

The game starts and it’s clear that our confidence is well founded. We’re not overawed or being outplayed. They put pressure on Marcus Browne which limits his scope and press Josh Ruffels and Sam Long. While we struggle to break out as an attacking threat, if we are going to concede, you suspect, it’ll be because of a bad luck or a mistake.

The mistake comes on 15 minutes. Mark Sykes over-plays in midfield, loses the ball and Sam Longstaff races forward to fire home. It’s not a howling error and Longstaff has plenty more to do once in possession, but it’s enough to separate the sides. 15 minutes later, Marcus Browne loses the ball on the edge of their box, the referee is liberal in his appliance of the rules all night, but he’s right about this one; no foul. A long ball to Joelinto creates a one-on-one with Rob Dickie and it’s 2-0.

They’re efficiently good, though it’s closer to Rotherham than futuristic Manchester City space-football. Given that they’re a serviceable defensive unit, it looks like game over.

Quixotically we then find some fluidity; Jamie Mackie goes close, Sam Long has one headed off the line. It’s nice to see us play. What’s lacking is a driving force. Browne is squeezed out, Henry is injured and Baptiste has gone. Mark Sykes becomes an unlikely pivot around which good things happen.

There’s a quiet acceptance over half-time that we’re at journeys end. The main objective now is to avoid injuries and humiliation. The second half is scrappy; their early efficiency has deserted them but we’re stuck between attacking and conceding more on the break.

On the hour Browne goes down and Karl Robinson instantly replaces him; it feels like he’s conceding defeat. We’re not always perfect, but we’re still playing with a signature style. Some of their passing is indistinguishable from the Conference; four or five times the ball simply runs out of play. Still, they have the two goal buffer and we have little in response, so it matters not.

The game becomes painful, Newcastle fans sing songs at Alan Shearer who is holed up in a black box that makes for a studio in the corner – ‘They’re perpetually stuck in the 90s’ says someone near me. But, Shearer is the most glamorous thing about the game, if I was watching this on TV, I’d be channel surfing for Live At The Apollo on Dave, even if it featured Jason Manford.  

The clock ticks on, we’re tiring on and off the pitch. Nathan Holland is mainlining energy gels. With Matty Taylor just back from injury and Dan Agyei and Liam Kelly barely having 90 minutes of football between them this year, even our fresh legs don’t have fresh legs.

Five minutes to go, through all the scrappiness we draw a foul 25 yards out. Liam Kelly stands over the ball, he has the stature of Sam Deering, so the distance looks about three times what it is. Physically we’re drained, but this is a purely technical challenge so we have a chance. Kelly exquisitely lifts the ball over the wall and past the keeper for 2-1. He dutifully trots back to the centre-circle, but a smile on his face shows how pleased he is with it. It’s almost identical to Chris Maguire’s goal at Middlesborough three years ago. Look what happened then.

But that’s fanciful hope rather than expectation. As we tick into injury time, we win another free-kick in the centre circle. Suddenly everything is simple; equalise or lose heavily. Simon Eastwood abandons his goal to make a nuisance of himself up front. Kelly pitches the ball to the back post; Sam Long who’s put in an exhausting shift, pops it up, Eastwood stares into the sky trying to locate it like a village cricketer blinded by the sun. His bewilderment disrupts the Newcastle back line allowing Ruffels to win the second ball which drops to where Nathan Holland is loitering. Holland watches it fall from the night’s sky, swings a boot and connects.

Now we’re in the hands of destiny. The ball arrows its way through a narrow alleyway of opportunity. I’m right behind it; gravity brings the ball down, potential energy transfers into kinetic energy via biomechanics. A confluence of science, a moment of liquid poetry, the ball hits the net and the place implodes. If we’re going down, it’s going to be with grenades and flamethrowers. Holland celebrates like he’s from the 50s with both hands in the air. The stadium is carnage, like a coach crash in an ice storm; bodies are everywhere, shoes are lost, grannies thrown into the air. Even with its imperfections and gaping open end, sometimes The Kassam can feel like home. For moments, live on national TV, the world can see why we do what we do.

And then, the reality. As the final whistle goes, a person on my row nudges past and doesn’t come back, his cup of Horlicks beckons. We start extra-time brightly and threaten again with Dan Agyei. But it can’t be sustained and we run out of puff; only Sykes seems to maintain the intensity, growing more influential as the minutes tick by. Our only option now is to survive to penalties, even with precious few natural penalty takers on the pitch. George Thorne comes on looking like the banjo-tech from Mumford & Sons, it’s good to see him back, but he’s a long way from fit.

Conceding is, perhaps, inevitable and it comes eventually from Saint-Maximin, who is built like an American wrestling figurine. With five minutes to go and no energy to respond, hope slips away. They celebrate wildly; but given the preposterous financial gap between the two clubs, they should be beating us and it shouldn’t take three and a half hours to do it. Exhausted and heroic, the cup dream is over. It’s been a heck of a run.

There are times this season when it feels like we’ve been on loan to somewhere else – the Carabao Cup, Premier League, Sky Sports and the BBC. We depart in a blaze of glory in front of the nation; there’s no better way to fail. Tomorrow, it’s back to normality and the simple reality of seven games in 21 days. Perhaps the 5th Round wasn’t much of a prize after all.

Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Blackpool 1

Over Christmas someone posted a tweet about how quickly the feeling of returning to the warm bosom of the family home on Christmas Eve can turn to an overwhelming urge to throw acid over your family just for them wanting to watch Holby City two days later.

If last Saturday’s game against Newcastle was a loving family Christmas Eve and Friday’s transfer shenanigans was a fractious Boxing Day argument, then Blackpool was the first Sunday lunch together a few weeks later.

The Oxford United family returned to the dinner table where we’d laughed and loved, then argued about calling a Chinese takeaway a ‘Chinky’ and if Uncle Alan was ‘shoving it in everyone’s faces’ posting pictures of his new boyfriend on Facebook.

Gathered together at the Kassam, everyone was torn between the need grin and bear it and the urge to address unresolved arguments; about Fosu and Baptiste, about our failure to sign a right-back or our reliance on loans. Do we address the elephants as they sit quietly in the room? Should we get it all out in the open? Or do we just get on with it and leave the elephants be?

As a result, the atmosphere was as subdued as the family lunch; the gentle clanking of knives and forks, the chinking of glasses. The loudest noise of all was the aching silences as everyone trod carefully to avoid a mistake that would destabilise the precarious status quo.

Then, almost as if we were trying too hard to avoid one, there was a mistake, like your dad quietly muttering it was good to have some ‘proper British food’ and everyone thinking it was a reference to an old Brexit argument. John Mousinho and Josh Ruffels clatter into each other, giving Gary Madine a free run at goal. He takes an age, but slots home to put Blackpool 1-0 up.

A goal down could have ignited a barrage of arguments and recriminations, turning the air blue and the atmosphere toxic. People held their breath, bit their lips and hoped it might pass.

It did, then there’s a moment of levity that unites everyone, like mum bringing in a plate of Yorkshire puddings. The ball is worked to Sam Long whose cross drops to Marcus Browne to blast in the equaliser off Mark Sykes. Suddenly and briefly, it’s like the good old days again.

Everything is holding together. Just. We haven’t descended into a mass argument, nobody has stormed out. Perhaps it will be OK.

It gets better, dad cracks a joke that’s a bit close to the bone, but there’s a flicker of a knowing, unifying smile on his face. He knows his prejudices and his cantankerousness. Marcus Browne picks up the ball and curls it round a crowd of players into the top corner. The moment of pure quality brings us all together, momentarily.

But, now this new state of equilibrium has been reached, the second-half is slow and awkward; we’re pensive and don’t threaten much. We don’t want to lose what we’ve gained. It’s a slog as the conditions neutralise any scope for craft or ability. There’s a tension in the air, it could get better, it could get worse, nobody is really prepared to risk anything just in case.

Time ticks by, nearly there. An unnecessarily heavy pudding is served to the over-stuffed guests. Custard? Yes, why not? The injury time board goes up. The family are putting their coats on and saying their goodbyes. Soon, you’ll be in the car and be able to release the tension, free to dissect everyone’s behaviour on your way home.

Then, just as you think you’re alone and got away with it, while putting a bag in the boot of your car, you quietly say to yourself that your dad is ‘a stupid old twat’. You turn around and he’s standing behind you with a Christmas present you’d forgotten, closer than you’d thought. Would he know it was a reference to him? Did he hear? If he did, he’s not saying. After all this, are you going to pay for your error at the death?

Deep into injury time Josh Ruffels woefully under-hits a back pass putting Madine clean through. Oh, god, this is it isn’t it? At the very death, this is the moment it all collapses in a heap. Improbably, his shot skims the outside of the post. We breathe again, let’s get out of here.

The final whistle goes, we’ve made it through. Mum turns to you quietly in the bustle of everyone leaving and says ‘You’ll be coming to us at Christmas won’t you? Your dad really likes you coming, you know.’ You smile a reassuring smile, it may not be always be happy and harmonious, but yes, we’ll be there next time and ultimately everything will be OK. Probably.

George Lawrences Shorts – A-Fosu-lytptic Shandogeddon

Saturday 25 January 2020

Like a pair of British Knights high tops, Sports Direct’s Newcastle United were cheap and lacking in style on Saturday as Oxford came home with a lucrative replay in their locker after a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup.

Sunday 26 January 2020

Our draw with Newcastle asked a lot of questions of the Premier League team, none more so than the performance of Miguel Almiron(’s wife). The Star analysed Alexia Notto’s 17-second Instragram video of her swaying vacantly like a psychologically damaged captive chimpanzee in a Chinese zoo. The ‘trained Zumba dancer’ ‘flaunted’ her ‘moves’ in a way her husband didn’t at St James’ Park.

Monday 27 January 2020

It was fumbling velvet ball-bag Monday for the FA Cup draw, or as it has become known on Twitter; ‘Shitdraw’. We now face the prospect of a trip to West Brom.

Having had shitdraws against teams in all top five divisions this season, including the champions of England, our analysis shows the only draws now acceptable to fans would be the 1970 Brazilian World Cup squad or the blue team from the animated section of the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Following such great sitcoms as Are You Being Served? And Ever Decreasing Circles, Oxford’s FA Cup replay with Newcastle will be shown live on BBC1.

The game will be the club’s first meaningful contribution to national prime-time public service sports broadcasting since 2003 when Jefferson Louis was seen dancing naked on live daytime Sunday TV. Prudish TV censors will be watching Jamie Mackie with interest.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Alumni news, as Scuttling Joe Rothwell was lavished with praise at Blackburn for his two assists in Blackburn’s win over Middlesborough. Rovers manager Tony Mowbray acknowledged that Rothwell has had to adjust to life in the Championship having, apparently, been such a star at Oxford that players deferentially passed to him in awe at what he could achieve. Yes, that’s how we remember it too, Tone.

Thursday 30 January 2020

It was the Radio Oxford Nine Minute Fifty Eight Second Fans ForAAAARRRGGHHHH! On Thursday as Niall don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWiliams’ plan to spend the interview equivalent of nine hours at the crease scoring 16 runs with immaculately executed forward defensive shots was blown to pieces.

Instead, he was accompanied by all-action KRob, in full Kate Adie mode, with news that Shandon The Baptise and The Stepover Kid Tariqe Fosu were having medicals with an unknown club. This breaking news somewhat marginalised the carefully crafted and no less important question about the cleanliness of the toilets.

Friday 31 January 2020

With the Coronavirus spreading faster than chlamydia during peak season in Blackpool, we face er, Blackpool tomorrow. Having dropped to eighth in the table, Oxford will be without Fosu and Baptiste whose transfer to Brentford was eventually confirmed. There was some hope that impotent burns victim Will Grigg might come in but transfer window closed with KRob left empty handed meaning Headington United’s Sam Long will have his longest spell in the team since the Southern League.

Elsewhere, pompous Titian haired beanpole Dave Kitson is interested in becoming the Secret Head Coach at Cambridge. His next book, ‘The Secret Early Reducer, Hoof It Up To The Big Man, Second Ball, SECOND BALL‘, comes out next year.

Midweek Fixture: The top 50 players of the 2000s – Ranked

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. The 2000s was a bleak decade for Oxford United, we dropped into the bottom tier of the Football League in 2001, then just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, out of the Football League altogether.

At the back end of last year, I asked you to vote for your favourite players from that godforsaken decade. This is how the top 50 ranked.

50. Matt Robinson

A friend of mine once asked why Matt Robinson wasn’t playing in the Premier League. The bald wonder had magic in his boots, if he had a decent striker to get on the end of his crosses, or alternatively Julian Alsopp, we always threatened.

49. Alan Judge

The first of many whose ranking is probably not down to his performances in the decade in question. Alan Judge played just two games as emergency cover in 2003 and 2004 and while that had a certain something about it, his ranking is probably more down to his Milk Cup Final appearance in 1986.

Defining moment: In the decade in question, let’s go for his last game for the club 19 years after his debut, aged 44. A 4-0 defeat to Southend.

48. Eddie Anaclet

A spritely full-back from our first season in the Conference. I had him down as the player of the season that year, another poll ranked him as the worst player in the squad. A breath of fresh air in a squad of has-beens and never-wases.

47. Scott McNiven

Once Scott McNiven got his backside between a striker and the ball, there was no getting around it. It was that big. A full-back – with Matt Robinson (50) on the other side – of the Ian Atkins vintage. 

46. Andy Scott

Endlessly likeable striker bought by Firoz Kassam in a panic from Brentford in 2001. Scott had scored a bucket load in the first half of that season, but never really hit the groove for us in what was a hopelessly failing side. 

Defining moment: Scored in a Boxing Day game against Luton Town in front of a full-house (we still lost).

45. Sam Ricketts

Angular faced full-back and academy product, Ricketts was squeezed out of the club in 2002 due to competition for players. He stepped down a few levels, but worked his way back into the Football League before playing 52 times for Wales. One that got away. 

44. Andy Burgess

A mercurial talent, but when the going got tough, Burgess went missing. Scored a wonder goal in the first game of the Conference season, but spent most of the rest of the season with his sleeves over his hands like a reluctant goth playing 4th Year house football.

Defining moment: The moment of magic against Chris Wilder’s Halifax Town in our first game in Conference.

43. Chris Tardif

Perpetual understudy to Andy Woodman, Tardif was a bit of a luxury in that he was too good to sit on the bench, though that’s what he did. Watching him and Alan Hodgkinson checking out the half-time scores instead of warming up was a staple of the Kassam Stadium mid-2000s experience.

42. Mark Watson

Our collapse down the league could be plotted in the quality of our centre-backs. From Elliot and Gilchrist to Wilsterman and Whelan. Mark Watson was the last of the great stoppers. Walked out of the club in 2000, and given what happened next, understandably so.

41. Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn was one of those salt-of-the-earth kind of players. He battled against hope to keep our promotion hopes alive during the mid-2000s. 

40. Rob Duffy

Perhaps the most divisive player of this or any decade. Jim Smith brought Duffy from Portsmouth to spearhead our fight back to the Football League in 2006. Duffy immediately started to repay him in goals, many from the penalty spot. Otherwise, he didn’t seem that bothered. Nobody could decide whether he was a goal machine or a lazy sod. In the play-off against Exeter in 2007 he found himself clean through only to weakly tap the ball back to their ‘keeper. It summed him up perfectly.

Defining moment: Rolling the ball into the hands of the Exeter ‘keeper in the play-off semi-final when clean through.

39. Sam Deering

A pocket sized ball of trouble. There was much wrong with Sam Deering; his racist comments about nurses, his Ugg boots, the fact he couldn’t get the ball in the box from a corner. When he broke his leg in Chris Wilder’s first game, Wilder – who called him ‘our best player’ – used it as a way of leveraging support for his way of working. In 2010 at Wembley he picked the ball up from Rhys Day on the edge of the area exchanged passes with Alfie Potter and the rest was history.

Defining moment: Best supporting actor in the third goal at Wembley.

38. Danny Rose

An absolutely solid, if unremarkable midfielder who joined in 2007 from Manchester United where he was their ‘reserve captain’. Too much was expected of him. Returned later to play his part in our 2015/16 promotion campaign. Then ruined it all by going to Swindon.

37. Paul Wanless

Another two-spell man. Having cut his teeth at Oxford, Wanless headed off to Cambridge where he became something of a legend. Returned at the tail end of his career in 2003.

36. Nigel Jemson

Yet another two spell man and, like Alan Judge, probably not at this level because of what he did during the decade. In his pomp, Jemson spearheaded an attack which kept us in the Championship during the late 90s. His return in 2000 miserably yielded no goals from 18 appearances. 

Defining moment: Screaming in the face of a kneeling and crestfallen Paul Moody for not passing to him when clean through on goal.

35. Manny Omoyimni

Manny Omoyimni was famous before he reached Oxford, while at West Ham he featured in a League Cup game for the Hammers having previously turned out for Gillingham in an earlier round. As a result, West Ham were thrown out of the competition. Omoyimni, didn’t really do much at the Manor in another failing team, but he tried hard and around that time, that was all you could ask for.

34. Matty Taylor

Memorable though they were, I’m speculating that Matty Taylor’s two appearances in the Setanta Shield in 2008 were not the prime reason for making number 34. Slipped off the radar, made his name elsewhere; a return this season has propelled him up the ratings.

33. Mateo Corbo

A surprisingly enduring spirit. Corbo’s defining characteristic during his thirteen game spell at the club was his ability to get booked. 

32. Lee Bradbury

A striker who was too good for the team that he played with; or so the argument goes. Bradbury signed from Portsmouth with a reputation for goals; signing him was quite a coup. The problem seemed to be that he was so ahead of his team mates that he was never in the right place to put the ball in the back of the net.  

Defining moment: A bicycle kick from point blank range against Torquay.

31. Matt Murphy

Very much a nineties man; his career just about dipped into the 2000s, but it was what he did before that really made his name.

30. Jefferson Louis

Before characters like Danny Hylton and Jamie Mackie, there was Jefferson Louis. Signed from Thame United after a spell in prison, Louis was all arms and legs. In 2003 he got on the end of a James Hunt throw-in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup against Swindon Town to score the winner. He was then filmed stark naked live on daytime TV celebrating the fact we’d drawn Arsenal in the next round. Not exactly a one man club, at the last count he’d played for 45.

Defining moment: His glancing header that beat Swindon in the FA Cup in 2003.

29. Andy Woodman

When Ian Atkins became manager in 2001 he rolled into town a battalion of proven players. Andy Woodman stood behind an impenetrable defensive unit and never looked flustered. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

Defining moment: Saving a key penalty in 2002 to dump Charlton out of the League Cup.

28. Simon Clist

Not all heroes wear capes. Simon Clist was integral to the 2010 promotion team as the balancing force in midfield. Dannie Bulman won the battle, passed it to Clist, who passed it to Adam Chapman or Adam Murray to create something. It was fantastically effective. Clist was integral to that machinery.

27. Mike Ford

Another player whose position is probably more down to what he did outside the decade than what he did in it. Mike Ford was never the nimblest of players and by 2000 he was on his last legs. But, in terms of what he gave to the club before that, he’ll never be bettered.

26. Tommy Mooney

Notoriously tight with his money, Firoz Kassam was prone to the odd panic buy – Paul Moody, Andy Scott, Lee Bradbury. Tommy Mooney came with baggage, a former Swindon striker, but at a time when we were so self-possessed, that didn’t matter too much. Mooney came with an excellent reputation. He didn’t let us down scoring 15 goals in the season he was with us. In reality he was just squeezing out a few more signing-on fees before age caught up with him. In a flash, he was gone. 

25. Matt Green

Matt Green would have been much higher up the list had his Oxford career been more straightforward. His first stint was in 2007 on loan from Cardiff, then he was all set to sign on a permanent deal, but took a diversion on the way to the ground and spent a year at Torquay. Eventually Chris Wilder signed him to make up part of a devastating three pronged attack in our Conference promotion year. 

Defining moment: His sensational volley to open the scoring at Wembley in 2010.

24. Adam Murray

Something of a forgotten man; Adam Murray joined in 2008 and skippered the promotion side for a good chunk of the season. Sadly injury meant he missed the last 4 months of the season meaning James Constable picked up the arm band and Adam Chapman pulled the strings in midfield. A creative talent that dug us out of the hole we were in at the time.

23. Jamie Cook

Jamie Cook had a curious Oxford career; he emerged in the 90s but played second fiddle to brighter homegrown stars. Left to pursue a very serviceable career. Returned in 2009 where he again played a bit part in our promotion campaign. Despite this, will always be fondly remembered at the club.

Defining moment: A 25-yard screamer against Luton Town in 2009.

22. Chris Hargreaves

A warrior who led his team into a hopeless battle to avoid relegation from the football team in 2006. Vowed to right a wrong in the Conference, but was last seen kicking a water bottle in frustration as we fell to Exeter in the play-off semi-final. Came back 3 years later mostly as a cheerleader to finally see us get back into the Football League in 2010.

21. Andy Crosby

Sometimes you just need to be held in the arms of a big strong man who will protect you. Andy Crosby was a colossus in Ian Atkins’ pragmatic team of 2001-2004. A metronomic ability to score penalties also meant that he threatened the goalscorers charts as well as held the back line together.

20. Bobby Ford

An enigmatic lost soul who seemed blighted by his talent. Returned to the club in 2002 having played in the top flight with Sheffield United to play in a team barely suited to his style.

19. Jack Midson

Gentleman Jack Midson first floated into view scoring an imperious lob over Billy Turley while playing for Histon in 2008. Eventually Chris Wilder brought him to the club, where he provided all the craft we needed to see us promoted in 2010. Quickly ejected by Wilder, Midson returned from a loan spell to score a hat-trick against Torquay in the Miracle of Plainmoor. And that was pretty much him done.

Defining moment: His winner versus Yeovil Town in the FA Cup in 2009

18. Les Robinson

Les Robinson wasn’t a millennium guy; he only played 26 games in the 21st Century, just 6% of all the games he played for us. But it’s a lasting testament to his legacy that he was still better than over 200 players who did play during the decade.

17. Dannie Bulman

Dannie Bulman was key to Chris Wilder’s rescue effort in 2009 being the tenacious ball winner that galvanised our promotion effort. He quickly fell out of favour and we spent much of our first season back in the Football League trying to replace him. Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake?

16. Paul Powell

Paul Powell was long past his best as the century turned. At one point he’d been our finest asset and could have played for England. But, a broken leg and erratic temperament meant he never quite fulfilled his potential. He did have the dubious honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal at the Kassam Stadium.

15. Phil Gilchrist

Another one of the 90s guys. Phil Gilchrist was re-recruited in 2006 with the help of a Coca Cola competition winner, who funded his transfer. By this point Gilchrist was mostly being held together with sticky tape and rubber bands. For a season, it worked fine, but he fell apart just as we did. 

14. Adam Chapman

Adam Chapman never did things the easy way; he initially joined from Sheffield United on loan but really came into his own taking over from Adam Murray in the final weeks of the 2009/10 season. A week before the play-off final, it was announced that he was to be sentenced for killing a man while driving and texting at the same time. Chapman put in a man-of-the-match performance before being sentenced to a year in a young offenders institute. He was never quite the same again, but did hit the headlines again when he burnt his nipple on baby milk in 2012.

Defining moment: His party-pooping free-kick at Burton which ruined their promotion celebrations in 2009.

13. Damian Batt

A quicksilver full-back with an unstoppable engine, Damian Batt seemed to be capable of defending in his own six yard box one second, then driving in a cross at the other. A key player of the promotion season, he left in 2013 and pursue a somewhat curious life.

12. Jamie Brooks

Jamie Brooks could have been the greatest of them all. A prodigious talent who sparkled during a grim first season at the Kassam. Arsenal took an interest, and apparently on the verge of a move to the Premier League giants was struck down with Guillain–Barré syndrome which nearly cost him his life. Struggled on until 2006 before being released.

Defining moment: Scoring the first competitive goal at the Kassam Stadium.

11. Paul Moody

Paul Moody had provided the goals that brought us promotion in 1996, he left in 1997 but returned in 2001 as a crowd pleasing folly from Firoz Kassam. Actually made a decent fist of it, coming out as leading scorer but seemed to hate every minute. Left after a season.

Defining moment: Hanging off the crossbar at Wycombe in 1996.

10. Chris Hackett

A product of the youth system and a hare down the flank. Threatened to follow the lineage of Brock, Thomas, Beauchamp, Allen and Powell. When you needed a spark, Hackett was your man.

Defining moment: Probably being sold to Hearts just when we needed him most.

9. Billy Turley

A self-consciously self-styled ‘character’ whose lunatic antics in goal between 2005 and 2010 kept our spirits up during bleak times. At times magnificent, but equally susceptible to the odd calamity as illustrated by his gaff that led to Leyton Orient’s first goal in the relegation decider in 2006 and a missed penalty against Exeter in 2007. I mean, they were biggies; but that was Turley.

Defining moment: Maybe his last meaningful contribution to the club, an unbelievable save in 2010 against Wrexham.

8. Mark Creighton

The Beast. Chris Wilder had a strategy for us in 2009/10 – we were finally going to use our status as a large fish in a small pond to our advantage. Creighton dominated in every thing he did. A rock and a leader, he was surprisingly moved on by Wilder in 2010. 

Defining moment: Last minute goal against York City in 2009

7. Yemi Odubade

Yemi Odubade appeared if by magic during an FA Cup game at Eastbourne Borough. He won a penalty which snatched them a draw and ran us ragged in the replay despite losing. Brian Talbot wasted no time in snapping him up. Possessed blistering pace and was a rare joy in a dark time, his 45-yard goal against Dagenham and Redbridge in 2007 a moment of pure ecstasy.

Defining moment: That goal against Dagenham and Redbridge.

6. Ryan Clarke

There’s a good argument that Ryan Clarke was pound-for-pound the best Oxford player of the decade. Others had goals, Clarke probably saved more than everyone else put together.

Defining moment: Too many to mention, but let’s go with saving 8 out of 14 penalties around 2010 and 2011.

5. Joey Beauchamp 

Joey Beauchamp was not a man of the 2000s, by that point his career was in decline. But it is his enduring legend which has placed him at number 5. Disgracefully dumped by the club without the sniff of a testimonial in 2002; the streets remember Joey.

Defining moment: Joey’s 35-yard screamer against Blackpool in 1996.

4. Steve Basham

Blighted by injuries, Steve Basham was too good for a club falling apart. A striker who played with his head, which was somewhat out of keeping during the brutish Ian Atkins years. Always scored goals, but at the same time looked a little out of place.

Defining moment: Scoring the winner to knock Millwall out of the League Cup in 2003.

3. Dean Whitehead

The nineties produced a raft of great homegrown talents, it was a machine that helped keep the club afloat. It was dismantled in the 2000s, which makes Dean Whitehead’s talent all the more remarkable. Not only did he possess a skill with the ball, he developed a work ethic and discipline which saw him play at the very top of the game.

Defining moment: A breathtaking farewell free-kick against Rochdale in 2004

2. Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter arrived in 2009 and only played 13 games in the decade, but while he wasn’t the most regular of starters, nearly everything good that happened involved him. Scoring the iconic third goal at Wembley in 2010, destroying Portsmouth 4-1 in 2013 and scoring the winner against Swindon in the JPT in 2012, Potter’s career was defined by magical moments.

Defining moment: The third goal at Wembley.

1. James Constable

Was James Constable a player for the 2000s? Or the 2010s? Or was he just the greatest Oxford United player of the century (so far). Let’s go with that. A goal machine, a loyal stalwart, a thoroughly nice bloke, there’s nothing Beano couldn’t do.

Defining moment: Where do you start?

Match wrap: Newcastle United 0 Oxford United 0

I’ve had a sense of foreboding and dread all week, a mild, manageable mental health wobble that occasionally creeps up on me. As it turns out, the week ended on a bad note, not directly for me, but for some people near me. It turned out to be a mentally challenging week that I was pleased to see end.

Saturday’s game rather got lost in the fuzz, at times like this I particularly appreciate the bubble that the club and its community provides; the familiarity of a game on Saturday, the simple consensus of our common cause, it provides welcome, necessary insulation from life’s less predictable challenges.  

But, what was Saturday’s game against Newcastle? People talked about it being a great occasion, making a day of it, on the Friday night the club had Karl Robinson, Matty Taylor and Cameron Brannagan do a meet and greet at a local hotel. There were a few who fetishised the dystopian presence of VAR, like we were going to a Premier League theme park with all its horrors. The whole thing could easily have been treated as a fantasy or a PR exercise, because in a sense, we couldn’t lose, even if we’d lost.

Would we remember there was a game to play? What kind of game? Newcastle are a curious club; in the same way we were defined by the Firoz Kassam business model; tenants to a slum landlord, Newcastle United are defined by Mike Ashley’s business ethos; take a premium brand past its sell-by date, strip it of its value and sell it cheaply back to any remaining customers.

So, after a sluggish week, Friday slipped into Saturday and the yellow caravan mobilised; by car, by train, by coach. The giddy excitement of the adventure. Into the bubble, moving north. But for what purpose? In hope? Simply because it was there to do?

St James’ Park looked great, a true cathedral of football; 52,000 fans, 3,700 of us packed into the seventh tier of their huge Leazes Stand. We even loved the indignity of being exiled to a spot closer to the moon than the pitch, like captives with Stockholm Syndrome. Apparently in awe, it could all have gone horribly wrong come 3pm.

As it turned out, with the battle finally joined, we were ready. Newcastle are on the right side of the financial chasm between the Championship and Premier League and are built for one thing, to stay there. Not the entertainers of the 1990s, they’re survivors of the 2020s. Like one of Ashley’s high street shops, chugging away doing whatever it takes to survive. Steve Bruce is the perfect manager; focussed and pragmatic, building his team around formidable physical units; Allan Saint-Maximin and Joellinton as much the front line of defence when faced with Manchester City and Liverpool as an attacking threat. 

They’re not built to win games, snatch them, yes, but there are few teams in the Premier League that Newcastle would simply try to outplay. Points in their last two games, causing an upswing in optimism, have come from last minute goals. A team of elite desparados.

Playing our third Premier League team of the year, our own well-disciplined conservatism is partly drawn from our surroundings, but also from our personnel. Sam Long and Elliot Moore are building careers on doing their job, not thrilling the crowd. We’re becoming accustomed to how this works now.

We allow Newcastle the ball, but they don’t know what to do with it. They’re simply not used to it. Set plays are a threat, sheer brutish physicality stretches us from time to time, but we’re not outclassed. Karl Robinson talks about exhausted bodies, we’ve played 11 more games than them this season, but our minds are fresh.

Their hope is that we might eventually wilt under the pressure, succumb to mental and physical tiredness, the occasion and the prize on offer. But, there’s no craft, Saint-Maximin burns himself out despite a couple of forays against Sam Long, Joellinton grows frustrated at his own short-comings. This is a player who might realistically hope to score no more than ten times a season, for a striker, it must be maddening; doubly so when your supporters expect double.

We don’t wilt, later on Alex Gorrin has the clarity of thought to draw a foul and a booking when caught out of position, Mark Sykes does the same a couple of minutes later. It’s a pivotal moment; when you’ve got 52,000 people howling at you in disgust it takes a brave, clear headed and mature man to accept the berating for the greater good. Sykes comes of age in that moment, Gorrin is his mentor. The fouls were cynical, but necessary, a reward for the discipline; any early bookings and those moments wouldn’t have been an option.    

Into the final moments and the game loosens up, it feels like we’re growing into our more natural game while they seem to be falling apart. Marcus Browne, who looks like he has the physical match of his highly paid opponents, sees a gap, but can’t quite re-organise his feet and shoots weakly. Nathan Holland, more slender and louche, nearly converts. Far away in the sky, the noise of 3,710 fans tumbles down the stands. 

And there you have it. Through all the hullabaloo, there was a match. We were ready. Physically and tactically ready, but more than that, we were mentally prepared in a way I hadn’t expected. In a week where I’ve lived mostly in my own head, it’s a joy to see the team using theirs; the clarity and maturity and the reward at the end. Saturdays are a gift for the difficulties that life can throw at you, players often praise the commitment of the fans, but sometimes we understate the importance of their efforts and the impact they have beyond the 90 minutes on the pitch. Saturday’s result and performance illustrated that perfectly.

Still in the Cup, always in the bubble.

George Lawrence's Shorts: Even-Stevevans

Saturday 18 January 2020

It was all-square on Saturday as we drew 1-1 with Gillingham. There’s no getting round the Govan Gut, Steve Evans, I mean it would literally take weeks, even by car. Despite taking the lead through the stepover kid Tariqe Fosu, Evans’ team hit back after the bookie monster, Alex Gorrin, conceded a reckless penalty. 

Sunday 19 January 2020

There are many things that ancient loyalty-phobe Jefferson Louis is famous for; going to jail, showing his arse live on TV, changing clubs, changing clubs, changing clubs, changing clu…

You get the idea, Louis is a rarity in the modern game; a true 39 club man. He’s been talking to Planet Football about as many of them as he can remember and how it’s taught him a lot about love, life and signing on fees.

Monday 20 January 2020

As we know, Glaswegian fatberg Steve Evans is a man with a highly tuned moral compass. He was aghast at Tariqe Fosu’s ‘antics’ on Saturday. Evans was left blushing behind his silk monogrammed handkerchief as Fosu appeared to feign injury after a heavy challenge. Easily shocked Evans had never seen anything like it – at least he’s never fallen on the floor and managed to get on his feet without the help of a winch before. 

Tuesday 21 January 2020

He’s the right-back with the come to bed eyebrows, heavenly Sheffield United full-back and former dreamboat loanee George Baldock is being considered for a call-up to the Greek national team. Baldock, or Baldockalopidas to give him his full name is wanted by Greek manager John Van’t Chip (translation: John’s Chip Van) for their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

George Thorne has signed on a permanent deal with the club after he left Derby County. The injury prone midfielder has had a nightmare couple of years in which he admits he fell out of love with the game. His loan move earlier in the season convinced him that a move would be great. ‘It was one of the most welcoming treatment rooms I’ve ever been to.’ he might have said.  

KRob and Steve Evans have been trading views about the length of Evans’ grass. KRob thinks Evans deliberately lets it grow naturally, Evans said that he always likes to keep things neat and tidy down there. Are we still talking about football pitches?

Thursday 23 January 2020

It was the Eight Minute Thirty-Seven Seconds Fan Forum on Radio Oxford on with Zaki the Unstoppable Sense Machine. As always, the forum covered never previously discussed topics in a decisive way, there were questions about the stadiumsituation (no deadline), fourth stand (maybe), safe standing (don’t know), park and ride (perhaps), parking at science park (maybe) and selling players (no, but in other circumstances, maybe).

We were also excited to hear about mysterious friend of the board Secret Barry; everyone should have a Secret Barry.

Friday 24 January 2020

Nothing says the FA Cup more than a Karrimor drawstring rucksack and Lonsdale vest, we head horizontally north and then vertical up for our FA Cup tie with Sports Direct’s Newcastle United on Saturday. Away fans will be housed in the seventh tier of Leazes Stand, the only away end in the country with views obscured by the curvature of the earth. 

The Aylesbury Ashley Young, Rob Hall was pretty excited to hear from KRob that he’ll be starting on Saturday. But, rather than playing in front of 52,000 carnivorous northerners, he’s been loaned out to sandal wearing vegans Forest Green Rovers.

Midweek Fixture: The Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-season Survey – Results

Back in July I ran a survey – The Absolute State of Oxford United – in an attempt to get a benchmark for the season. You can read about it here, here and here. Being impatient, I decided to do a smaller survey to mark the mid-point of the season to see how things have changed. These are the results.

January is a funny month; the transfer window is open, there are hot flushes of optimism from new signings, disruption from cup games with all their highs and lows and then there’s the league. So unlike the summer survey, the Absolute State of Oxford United Mid-Season Survey doesn’t assess Oxford in a steady state.

That said, the results from the January survey remained fairly consistent throughout the three weeks it was open despite moving up to 2nd then down to 5th in the league, progressing in the FA Cup and signing five players. 

There’s been a notable uptick in the overall perception of the club. Understandable really, we’ve just come off an excellent run in the League Cup, beat the league leaders, risen to second in the table and progressed to an FA Cup tie against Newcastle on Saturday. In the summer, the overall average rating was 6.7 out of 10, the mid-season survey saw a hop up to 8.7.

This was higher than any of the individual components showing that the club is greater than the sum of its parts. The squad was rated 8.3 out of 10 – up from 6.2. Karl Robinson’s stock has risen sharply to 8.4 from 6.1, recognition that he’s driving the success more than anything.

The board’s ratings lagged behind a little, which is perhaps understandable because there’s always demand for more in terms of investment as well as a general mistrust any board’s intentions. In the summer, off the back of multiple winding up orders, the board were rated just 4.9 out of 10, mid-season it has risen to 7.6.

The relationship between fans and club also jumped from 5 to 7.6. While these scores are lower than the on-field scores, the difference between the summer and now is greatest off the field. I don’t think this is necessarily because the board have made the most progress, more that it’s easier to make progress from a low base. It would be a strange club where the board was rated more highly than the squad.

When it came to players, we’re not comparing like for like; the squad in the summer wasn’t complete and only 12 players picked up votes. Gavin Whyte led the way back then with 31.7% of the vote followed by Cameron Brannagan with 18.4%.

Brannagan has held his top spot this time around with a marginal improvement to 19.3%, but there’s notable movements below. 

The biggest mover is Rob Dickie picking up 16.5% of the vote putting him second, a 16.2 percentage point improvement. Shandon Baptiste was third with his share of the vote increasing from 4.1% to 12.8%. James Henry was 4th jumping by 8.8 percentage points. Of the new signings, Alex Gorrin just pipped Matty Taylor to top spot, which is perhaps a bit of a surprise, but showing an astute appreciation that success is not just about who scored the goals, something the average matchday sponsor might do well to learn.

The biggest losers in the vote, perhaps surprisingly, were Josh Ruffels whose vote share dropped by -13.5 percentage points and Simon Eastwood – 6.3. I don’t think this is a significant reflection the performances of either player, these things are relative. I think it’s more a reflection that there are plenty of new shiny toys in the squad to vote for.

A wave of optimism has seen expectations rise; 30.5% expect us to finish second at the end of the season with 13.5% expecting us to win the title. Just 8.5% of the vote don’t expect us to make the play-offs so the bar is pretty high. 

The FA Cup was a funny one given what’s coming on Saturday, 93.2% expected us to make the fourth or fifth round, but it’s not exactly the hardest thing to judge.

Oddly, fans see Coventry City now as title favourites despite them not hitting top spot at any point in the season, this was followed by Ipswich Town – who have been on a terrible run – and Rotherham United, who are top. We’re seen as fourth favourites. Early pacesetters Wycombe picked up 3.2% of the vote, nobody seems convinced by them.

At the bottom 74.2% expect Southend to finish bottom with Bolton picking up 24.4%. MK Dons were the only other team voted for, which may just be out of spite.

So, what does this all tell us; it tells us the brutal reality that every time you improve, expectations rise. The ultimate point is that expectations reach such a pitch it is no longer possible to meet them. But, until then, all the signs are good; we’re in a happy place with a lot to play for, we should enjoy it while it lasts.