George Lawrence’s Shorts: Plaque Sunday

Saturday 24 October 2019

Sam Long, the only player in the current squad to have played for Headington United in the Southern League, was on the scoresheet against Rochdale on Saturday in another 3-0 routing. It was his first goal for the club since getting the winner against Summertown Constitutionals in the Oxfordshire Invitational Vase just before he went to fight in the first World War.

Sunday 25 October 2019

The great and the good, along with Peter Rhodes-Brown, gathered at The Brittannia pub in Headington on Sunday to reveal a Blue plaque commemorating the founding of the club 126 years ago. The plaque is the result of a long campaign by fans to warn people against the dangers of carrying out pub dreams after a bucket of strong ale.

Monday 26 October 2019

Zaki the Unstoppable Sense Machine has been announced as the club’s vice chairman. Zaki will be Tiger’s representative on Earth as he’s the only board member based on the UK. ‘I’m looking forward to endlessly answering questions about the stadiumsituation from Trevor from Bicester.’ he probably said.

Tuesday 28 October 2019

Charlie Methven’s red socks and brown suede moccasins may not be enough to save Sunderland after all. Charlie and his doe-eyed cash puppy Stewart Donald brought the Mackems to Oxford on Tuesday for the Type 2 Diabetes Cup tie. The Aylesbury Ashley Young Rob Hall scored the opener and, though pegged back to 1-1, Oxford went through on penalties. Sunderland’s Will Grigg, who Methven and Donald spaffed £4m on, blazed over one of their penalties. The scouting report for Grigg said ‘No talent, funny song, must sign’.  

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Jurgen Klopp is running scared of the rampant Yellows by threatening to remove his team from the Type 2 Diabetes Cup. The next round is scheduled for mid-December when Liverpool are due to play in The Club World Cup. ‘Yes, we are a group of multi-millionaires with more resources than almost every other team in the world, but have you seen Josh Ruffels’ form lately?’ said Klopp before flashing one of those maniacal media smiles of his.

Elsewhere, a football grounds website has ranked The Kassam the 13th best in League 1, which we’re sure you’ll agree, is proof they have never been there.

Thursday 31 October 2019

On Thursday, there was so much ball juggling in the presence of a bunch of elites, we were surprised that Prince Andrew didn’t turn up. The draw for the quarter final of the Type 2 Diabetes Cup was made with the mighty Yellows being drawn at home to oil rich cash bores Manchester City

It was also the Six Minute Twenty-Five Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with Captain Sensible Zaki. This is a great opportunity for fans to contribute their ideas for the success of the club. Parking was one reason suggested for low crowds. The club are looking at whether Simon Eastwood could offer a valet service to entitled fans while we fill our boots with goals at the other end of the pitch.

Friday 1 November 2019

Former Oxford United tabard wearing specialist Dexter Blackstock has turned into Doctor Blackstock since retiring. He’s started a company which he says will save the NHS millions of pounds. This will be achieved by having a website of impenetrable wiffle about blockchain and over-use of online pharmacies. 

Millions of pounds? People’s health and wellbeing? Cutting edge technology? Thank goodness it’s all in the hands of someone so adept at unzipping a quilted jacket.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Sunderland 1 (won 4-2 on pens)

I’m in Devon so I’m missing tonight’s game. It’s just one of those things; nobody planned for us to be playing for a quarter-final place in the League Cup in October. The weather is wild, so it’s just me, a wood burner and my thoughts.

Pre-match

I reckon this is the biggest home game I’ve missed since we played Leeds United in the FA Cup in 1994. I was at university and couldn’t get through to the ticket line on the phone before it sold out. I came home anyway so I could hear the commentary on the radio. I had cheese and bacon sandwiches sitting in a flat that my parents were staying in following a house fire. We led 2-0 before being pegged back to 2-2, then beat them in an epic replay at Elland Road.

On Twitter, the club have announced the car park is full; that would usually give me anxiety attacks, now I’m kind of missing that feeling.

Kick-off

I was brought up following games remotely; I remember listening to the 1981 UEFA Cup Final between Ipswich Town and PSV Eindhoven on the radio, there was an exotic other worldliness to it, the static on the commentary as though it were transmitting from the moon. I remember Nick Harris’ gravely tones reporting our League Cup replay at Old Trafford in 1983 and our quarter-final draw with Everton at The Manor. I loved those times, who wouldn’t?

That 83/84 run was legendary; but it’s easy to forget the players who were involved – Vinter, Biggins, Whatmore, Ray Train. All largely forgotten now given what came next, but they laid the foundations. Does this run feel the same?

0-15 Minutes

Five changes to our starting eleven, but I feel strangely calm about it. I’m not sure if it’s confidence or that I’m not actually that bothered about the result. If this is the start of something big then people like Mark Sykes and Sam Long will be the Ray Trains and Neil Whatmores of the story. No headlines, but dependable and essential.

15-30 minutes

I don’t know if having those squad players starting is right for this game. It worked against West Ham and Millwall because it encouraged a more disciplined display. Perhaps against a fellow League 1 team we should be sticking to the formula that’s been working.

Um, no. 1-0. What a player Rob Hall is. It’s a nightmare for someone who relies on pace when injury and age starts to catch up with them; you’ve got to completely remodel your game. So many players can’t, Rob Hall is making a great fist of it.

30-45 minutes

Is this League Cup run the story of resurrection? The story of modern day Mick Vinters and Steve Biggins’? Mark Sykes was due to go out on loan just before he was man of the match against West Ham, Shandon Baptiste has shone after serious injury, Rob Hall – out for nearly two years – scores against Sunderland. Now Sam Long’s just put in a great block – don’t forget his story either.

I fear what Max Power might do, but I think that’s just nominative determinism.

Half-time

1-0. The weather here is foul and we’ve sprung a leak. The heat from the wood burner has moved from warm and cosy to oppressively hot. I don’t want to lose the flame, but if I put another log on the fire, I think I might die.

45-60 minutes

If you normally consume your football only via social media and TV, you’re mad. It’s like eating vitamin pills; functional and pragmatic, but stripped of all its joy and magic. Don’t let people trick you into thinking football is better when you watch it on TV or when you’re betting on it. I’m missing that sensation in the pit of my stomach where you want to leave but you’re compelled to stay.

I think it’s the feeling of supporting the players as people that makes watching your club in real life so much better. Footballers are often painted as automatons; assets to be bought and sold, critiqued and deified. But, when you’re on the journey with them, that’s what makes is special. Is your support enough to ensure success? Probably not, but what else have we got?

60-75 minutes

Oh god, we’re into that phase when you start to dream of glory, but fear a collapse. Great blocks by defenders are so edifying, but why are we having to block so much? Now I am invested; now I need for us to win.

Looking at the other scores tonight, apart from Colchester, who are beating Crawley (Dannie Bulman has scored and he’s 62 next birthday) there won’t be a duff draw in the next round. I bet we get Colchester. OH GOD STOP THINKING ABOUT THE NEXT ROUND.

75-90 minutes

I’m in that regressive state; doing nothing more than refreshing Twitter. They’re going to score aren’t they? A goal’s coming.

It’s come. 1-1. In a strange way, I’m relieved. But now what? Jamie Mackie, that’s what. There’s something about this squad; every one has a story. Mackie has no pace, little craft, and yet through pure effort, he gets results.

But, this is what I hate; Long, Sykes, Hall, Mackie, they’ve all got stories, I don’t want our club to let them down.

This is going all the way.

Penalties

Now I’m lost in purgatory; I hate penalties when I’m there, but watching them via Twitter is the pits. I follow three accounts that live tweet games, that’s 30 tweets just for the spot kicks, all slightly out of sequence. I can’t keep up.

The good news is that it’s just about kicking the ball now. I reckon playing those marginal players has back-fired a bit. It makes a great story, just not tactically. Now, though, it’s just a question of who can kick it the best.

Oh god, here they come, we’re going to miss every one.

Goal. Goal. Goal. Goal.

They’re showing it on Sky Sports now, I can watch it on my iPad; but the tweets, the feed, it’s all out of sequence.

THEY’VE MISSED.

McNulty steps up to take their decisive fourth. On the video he’s running up to the ball; before he gets to it, I get a notification we’re through. Then I watch Eastwood save it. What a mess. But that’s it. We’re through. We’re bloody through.

Final whistle

This is a redemptive story; from Karl Robinson to Rob Hall to Sam Long to Shandon Baptiste to Mark Sykes. And for John Mousinho who was being encouraged to quit during the summer. I don’t quite know how we’ve done it, but this is a redemptive club; this is like 1983/4; whatever happens now in this competition, we’ve had an adventure and that’s all we’re asking for. Only, for the next part of the adventure, I’m bloody going to be there.

Match wrap: Oxford United 3 Rochdale 0

I’m in exile. I mean, I’m not a deposed opposition party leader in a despotic country, I mean I’m away.

It’s all Michael Appleton’s fault; in his first season I was so fed up with Oxford, I decided that I would no longer navigate my life around the fixture list. In fact, at the end of 2014/15, I decided the next season would be my last as a season ticket holder unless things started to look up.

Then they started to look up. Really up.

The legacy of that low remains today; October half-term is spent on holiday, this is the first year that I’m regretting it. Partly it’s because the way the fixtures have fallen, with Ipswich’s visit likely to be postponed, my next home game is probably Shrewsbury on 7 December. Mostly, I’m missing it because of what’s happening to us.

In 2014/15, I’d lost faith, the club was being passed from one owner to another, from one manager to another and while we were making material progress, it felt like I was waiting for the return of a buzz that was never likely to come. The club wasn’t delivering whatever it was I was looking for. First I was its lover, then it became decrepit and I became its carer. Now we were just tolerating each other. A relationship of duty.

I came to the conclusion I could simply pick and choose my games, be that glory supporter we all hate. But I’ve paid my dues, who would know or even care if I wasn’t there every damn week?

That season was my all-time low; I haven’t got close to it since, even during last year’s wobbles. That said, the Pep and Robinson years have risked dragging me back towards that position.

People had hoped that this summer would bring that explosion of positivity that we saw in 2015 and 2009. But it never came, if anything up until the last few weeks of the transfer window we seemed to be regressing.

But suddenly it’s clicking; the results, of course, but the club is gelling off the pitch. Friday’s announcement that James Henry has signed a two year contract is the equivalent of James Constable’s signing in 2009 or Kemar Roofe’s 2015. A major step-change, it’s as much a professional endorsement from Henry as it is a signing for us.

Suddenly we’re in a different place, the form which could have been seen as a freak set of results is turning into a new normal. We’re here, but where is that?

2016? Not really, there was something magical about that season; a reawakening of the club, a genuine shock. 2010? No. That was about recovery. What about 1996? No, it doesn’t feel like that.

So what does it feel like? Well, I struggle a little to say this because it almost feels like sacrilege to compare, but in terms of results, goals and entertainment, this is as dominant as we’ve been since Jim Smith’s double championship winning team in the eighties. I can’t remember an Oxford team being so impervious, nobody can lay a glove on us. We haven’t been like that since those glory years.

There’s still along way to go before we start properly comparing this team to that of Briggs and Aldridge, but the signs are there; if you’re not there to see it, you could be missing something really special. I know I am.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: That joke isn’t funny anymore

Saturday 19 October 2019

There are two things that are certain in life; Tariqe Fosu scoring the first, and Cameron Brannagain scoring the second. Oxford shrugged off the long flight to the New York stadium to eat pastrami on rye and beat Rotherham 2-1.

Monday 21 October 2019

GLS often spends Monday nights fumbling a sack of balls in an excitable way up until consumed by an overwhelming sense of melancholy. It was the FA Cup 1st Round draw on Monday with Oxford being drawn away to Poole Town, Hayes and Yeading. With so many teams playing, KRob fears the midfield could get crowded.

Tuesday 22 October 2019

There was a right Royal Rumble as Hayes, Yeading and Poole got together to decide who should face the mighty Oxford in the cup. After two floodlight failures, both Hayes and Yeading went through 3-2. The replay to find out whether it’s Hayes or Yeading in the next round has yet to be scheduled.   

Wednesday 23 October 2019

“Apart from Oxford United” said some bastard called Mighty Alan on the Guardian website “Which stadium has three stands?”. Oh right, thanks Mighty Alan, now we’re out of three-stand club are we? Anyway, apparently we’re not the only ones with a gaping rear end. There are stadiums in Australia, Scotland and Thailand with the same issue.

It turns out that the secret behind the All Blacks dominance of rugby is not a systematic doping programme after all. It’s down to Rhodes Scholar come former Oxford United mullet haired centre-back come psychiatrist Ceri Evans. KRob has been on the phone to Arthur Gnohere to see whether he can work similar magic on the squad.

If you don’t want to spend cash on a subscription you can read about him here. Evans, not Gnohere.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Giantkilling fetishists, BT Sport have donned their thigh length boots and put on their gimp masks to select Oxford’s game against Hayes and Yeading for TV. The dirty buggers have moved the fixture to Sunday where they’re either hoping for a humiliation for the league team, who have been very bad boys, or a spanking for naughty non-leaguers. 

There was more stadiumsituation chat during the Six Minute Seven Seconds Fan Forum with Niall, don’t call me Niall McWilliams. When asked about the stadium he said there was no news, about players he said there was no news and about the training ground, he said there was no news. It wasn’t all evasive, when asked about The Priory pub, he said he didn’t know.

Friday 25 October 2019

Babyfaced billionaire, Erick Thohir has been forced by the *squints* Indonesian government to step down from the Oxford United board after he became the sinisterly titled State-owned Enterprises Minister. This is the first appointment to government from the club since Kristaps Grebis was famously recalled to the Latvian government to sort out their fisheries policy.

He’s nice to his mum, tidies his room and makes the housewives of Witney come over all unnecessary; James Henry, has hoovered up a new two year contract.

Midweek fixture: A key battle at St Andrew’s (a fan story)

Here’s a story that all fans have, a largely inconsequential by-product of following your team. It doesn’t illustrate any important point about the club or football or anything, which is why I like it. If you have a vaguely Oxford United related story about being a fan, let me know here and I’ll stick the best of them on the blog. In the meantime, read on…

It’s 1995 and though our form and promotion prospects are fading, next up is Birmingham City at St Andrew’s for what could be a midweek title decider.

I had passed my driving test three months earlier and my mum let me take her Renault 5, and my mate Pete, up the M40 for my first trip to St Andrew’s. We hit traffic on the edge of Birmingham and realise we’ve got our timings all wrong, we crawl through the rush hour and eventually spot the stadium’s floodlights glowing on the horizon. 

The crowd is just short of 20,000 making parking difficult. Eventually, we find a spot in a residential road and, and having lost all sense of geography, we jump out in a rush. The car’s locking mechanism involves pressing a button in the door and slamming it shut. I do it just in time to remember that I hadn’t taken the key out of the ignition. Shit. 

There we were staring at the car, willing it to spit the keys out. We’re invisible to the people streaming past to get to the stadium and in our shock, they are invisible to us. There’s a vague bubbling excitement of people in yellow and blue rushing by; nobody wants to be late for this one. Slowly the streets thin out and we’re left pretty much on our own with just the expectant crowd noise in the background. It sounds awesome, if only we were there.

Pete’s dad is a member of the RAC, this is pre-mobile phones so we find a pub to call him. The pub is a sparsely populated inner city boozer, and not what you’d call our natural habitat. There’s the slightly stale smell of ale and bodies; half-an-hour earlier it would have been heaving with fans. The barman stares at us, everyone stares at us, the game is booming out from the radio. We could get lynched here.

We ask the barman if he has change for a £10 note. Even that feels like a provocative act; these out-of-towners flashing their fancy tenners. While Pete is on the phone to his dad, they score, there’s a smattering of applause and shouting within the pub and I control the urge to swear. We phone the RAC. While we’re explaining the complicated predicament we find ourselves in, we get a penalty; YES. David Rush misses it; SHIT. We’re told to go back to the car – help is on its way.

Back at the car we find a group of kids milling around menacingly and I’m suddenly aware of how vulnerable we’ve become. The kids ask if there’s a problem, why are we hanging around a car when we should be at the football? We say there’s not a problem, hoping our obvious lying faces aren’t giving the game away. They ask if we’re football fans. We say yes. They offer to ‘look after the car’ for us while we go to the game. We’re not streetwise enough to know what that means, but not too naive to know they’re not just being neighbourly. If we say yes, we could lose the car, if we say no, they could kill us.

We say no, and thankfully they disappear into darkness. There’s another roar – 0-2, then the RAC man appears. He grabs a wire from his van, shoves it down a gap in the window and pops the car door open within 15 seconds. I grab the keys, ignoring how ridiculously easy it is to break into my car, and nearly kiss him. He completes some paperwork, files it under ‘idiots’ and goes to save someone in real distress.

By this point, I’ve lost my mind. Despite everything that’s happened I’m determined to go to the game and insist we make our way to the ground. At the stadium the turnstile is closed, it’s not all-ticket, so we’ve no right to get in. They suggest we try the ticket office. There’s a contented buzz coming from within the stadium, which means it’s half-time.

When we do find someone who will help, we’re told the away end is sold out. They have some seats in the main stand at an eye-watering price. They’re not together, just dotted around the stand. We’ve missed half the game, we’re 2-0 down, but we could buy those tickets… couldn’t we? I look deep into Pete’s eyes, shall we do this? After… everything?

“Mate…” he said looking straight at me, “It’s over”. He actually says this, and he’s right. We walk back to the car. We’re on the motorway in time to hear us concede a third and listen to the local commentators discussing what Birmingham need to do if they want to compete in Division 1 next season. We pick up Radio Oxford just in time for the post-match phone-in about how fucking awful everything is.

Match wrap: Rotherham 1 Oxford United 2

I’ve struggled with the idea of teams gaining momentum. Every game starts at the same point with its own unique set of challenges – injuries, suspensions, opponents, tactics. The idea that it’s possible to transfer something from one game into another, and for that to accumulate – thereby having momentum – doesn’t seem to make sense.

I can see that good results change things – slight injuries are more likely to ignored, players are more likely to commit to systems that appear to work, they believe in each others’ abilities; if I was a striker, I’d more likely get into the box knowing Cameron Brannagan was crossing it than, say, Courtney Pitt.

It seems, then, that momentum is fundamentally a product of trust. When you start to trust something, then you’re more likely to commit to it. If you commit to it, it’s more likely to be successful.

It’s taken time to trust the latest incarnation of the club. That’s not surprising; we spent a good proportion of last year near the relegation zone and went through four winding up orders. In addition, it’s easy to forget what Karl Robinson inherited; a few remnants of Michael Appleton’s years – many of whom were on the verge of leaving – and Pep Clotet’s legion of oddbods.

But, trust is coming and perhaps it’s here. The Rotherham result might be the most significant piece in the jigsaw puzzle yet. They are exactly the type of club we aspire to be; apparently well run off the field and a robust capable team on it. Without denigrating the West Ham win, strange results happen in cup competitions, and something like the 6-0 win over Lincoln can be viewed as once in a life time aberration. The game against Rotherham, like the Doncaster game last week, are the workaday league games which determine which end of the table we end up at.

The clocks go back next week, which is when the season really starts; the top eleven teams – with us in fifth – all look like they could threaten the play-offs. Of the others, Portsmouth are the only team you might think capable of joining the scrap.

This is not dissimilar to last year; where we were in a large batch of teams separated by a few points, only that was at the other end of the table. I might be alone in constantly looking down, but when I look at the National League table – which we were in only few years ago – I see teams like Woking, Solihull and Bromley. I can no longer imagine us being amongst them. Even looking at League 2, it no longer feels like a group of clubs like us. My latest breakthrough, and this has only been in the last few weeks, is that we are more naturally aligned to Doncaster and Rotherham than we are teams towards the bottom in League 1.

There’s a point where we have to trust we’re part of that group of genuine play-off and promotion contenders and not there by virtue of a set of short-term freak results. Whether you are ever actually ‘there’ is difficult to say, I suspect many fans of most clubs look down before they look up, we know more than most that past performance is no indicator of future performance.

The last few weeks and our resulting League position have bought Karl Robinson the space he’s needed. His system is working, the players are bought into it, the fans are being absorbed by it. The circle of trust grows – which is also what will grow crowds – and that’s where momentum starts to kick in. If we can settle into this new status; who know where that will take us?

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Things that everyday folk leave behind

Saturday 12 October 2019

It was another immaculate display on Saturday as Oxford romped their way to a 3-0 win over Doncaster. Afterwards KRob broke off a live radio interview to have a ruck with the Donny subs who were warming down on a part of the pitch they weren’t supposed to be on. ‘Sorry, things are so perfect, I’ve got nothing left to lose my shit about.’ said KRob panting with the satisfaction of a dog that had just had a swim in cow slurry.

Sunday 13 October 2019

The sad news as Oxford United super-fan Andy ‘Womble’ James died on Sunday. At one point, Womble attended 1200 consecutive Oxford games over a period of 15 years. That includes every one of Les Robinson’s 458 games for the club, each of the 101 goals conceded by Richard Knight in 2000 and every lung busting run made by Dave Savage, which our statisticians calculate as being approximately none.

Monday 14 October 2019

As GLS wakes on a Monday morning with the rain hammering down against his window he often questions the futility of life’s purpose, why nobody on Come Dine With Me serves baked beans on toast in front of the TV and who is East Yorkshire’s best player. Thankfully, a third of those questions have now been answered. East Yorkshire, if you’re not sure, is basically Hull with an en suite. Fourth in the list was jugged eared Oxford legend Dean Windass. Next, the futility of life’s purpose…

Tuesday 15 October 2019

… or Hearts’ worst decisions, perhaps? Former Oxford manager Graham Rix was so dedicated to nurturing young talent they put him on a special register. Edinburgh Live have voted his appointment as the Jambos’ manager as their second worst decision ever. Apparently when the Hearts owner looked Rix in the eye, he saw a hero. Perhaps he should have looked longer, he may have seen that he was also a paedophile, racist and bully, as well as a terrible manager.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

The club have announced that they plan to offer an option to fans for a refund to season ticket holders for the game that was cancelled due to Bury’s demise. It reminds GLS of the time Auntie Edna was caught routing around in dead Uncle Albert’s suit pockets looking for his wallet while he lay in his casket in the front room.

Liverpool wunderkind Ben Woodburn has opened up about his career to the Daily Mail. ‘Turning twenty means he can no longer be called a teenager’ said the Mail in a rare moment of factual clarity. 

Thursday 18 October 2019

It was the Six Minute Eighteen Second Fans’ Forum on Thursday with Jose’s son John Mousinho. Like a slightly plump lady being asked when the baby is due; most of the questions focussed on the retirement he hasn’t announced and coaching he’s not doing. Au contraire; said Mr Mousinho, he is in the form of his Oxford United life; and what does he put this awakening to? ‘We’re playing so well, I don’t have to touch the ball as often’.

Prize for the most conflated footballing analysis goes to Football Fan Cast who claim that ex-Oxford loanee Jordan Graham is so desperate to get his career back on track he’s gone to a racist country to do it. Graham is currently on loan in Bulgaria.

Friday 19 October 2019

Oxford head for the Big Apple on Saturday to play at the ground so bad they named it once – The New York Stadium. Oh yes, we wanna wake up in the city that never sleeps… Rotherham.