George Lawrence’s Shorts: Tango and cash

Sunday 30 August 2020

Asylum seeking Jedward orphan Mark Sykes has created havoc in the Northern Ireland camp after turning down the opportunity to play for them in the Nations League in favour of The Republic. Ireland hasn’t seen trouble like this since, well, The Troubles, it can’t be long until we get to Bloody Tsun Dai.

And here he is! Oxford United’s greatest ever Hong Konger has scored his first goal for Shenzhen in the Chinese Super League.

Monday 31 August 2020

Ex-Oxford keeper Paul Kee has shown the same reactions that characterised his time at The Manor in the 1990s. Thirty years after his retirement, he’s reaslised he doesn’t have any pictures of him in action and is looking for anyone who might have some. Sadly, his search may be in vain given that few Oxford fans can recall him ever making a save.

Meanwhile, former Manchester United (reserves) skipper Danny Rose has finally come to his senses and left Swindon for Grimsby Town – known in the trade as a ‘six fingers to fish fingers’ transfer.  

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Sulky sixth former Rob Dickie got his A Level results. Due to Boris’ Bogus Algorithm, Dickie didn’t get into Leeds or Newcastle, but will instead study Mid-Table Obscurity at  London polytechnic Queens Park Rangers. The fee is said to be undisclosed; which is the value of Rob Dickie minus 75%. But it’s OK, there are add-ons – and when he does pitch in the World Series on Uranus, we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Mange tout, mange tout; Derick Osei Yaw was on target twice down the road at Brentford. The prestige friendly opened the Bees’ new ground; The Stadium of Lego. The 2-2 draw was live streamed on YouTube using, judging by the quality, an iPhone 4 and a lot of LSD.

Wednesday 2 September 2020

Oxford revealed its new orange away kit; or specifically the shade ‘We’re Going to Need a Third Kit, Kerching, Orange’. The shirt is a fitting tribute to the club’s history; and specifically its illustrious Dutch players; Dwight Tiendelli, Brian Wilsterman and Gino van Kessel. It evokes their spirit in that it looks great initially but will only to be used when there are absolutely no other options available. 

Thursday 3 September 2020

Like a teenager boasting to his friend that the French teacher’s left breast briefly brushed his arm, KRob eagerly revealed he’s made a bid for a striker. Elsewhere, Tory PR newsletter The Telegraph is reporting that KRob is on the verge of signing a new long-term contract. Our dreams are now haunted by the vision of KRob pulling on a skin tight Oxford shirt and banging them in next season.

Friday 4 September 2020

Tomorrow sees the start of the season with a Type 2 Diabetes Cup Fash the Bash at home to Wimbledon. With no fans present, KRob’s fairly non-plussed about it and will be treating the game like another pre-season friendly. Chins up KRob, we’ll be with you in spirit as the game is being streamed via iFollow. We’ll be backing the team from the first minute to the eighth, then from the seventeenth to the thirty-second without any sound, then we’ll watch fourteen minutes of last seasons EFL Trophy game between Gillingham and Norwich Reserves, then from the sixty-fifth to the seventieth with commentary from the first half…

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.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Watch us wreck the mic, Sykes!

Sunday August 23 2020

Jedward orphan Mark Sykes has smeared his face in camo and crawled through barbed wire to get to a safe house declaring that he now wants to switch from Northern Ireland to the Republic for their forthcoming Nations League games. Bloody asylum seekers.

Elsewhere, spellcheck’s Fiarce Kelleher, who signed in a vacuum between MApp and PClot and played less games than Jeremy Balmy and George Rasulo, may feel he missed his moment at Oxford. Finally, he’s made the big time, headlining the Oxford Mail… because he’s been made redundant by Macclesfield Town

Monday August 24 2020

Well, this is awkward. While Sykes nervously eats cold beans in a ramshackle outhouse, glancing at the shadows dancing in the half-light, he’s been overlooked for the Republic squad while Joel Cooper has been called up for Northern Ireland.

Tuesday August 25 2020

Oxford went down 2-1 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in a friendly. The visitors silenced the home seats with the opener from Matty Taylor. Jack Stevens saved a penalty back-pass early in the second half before conceding two quick goals. 

At Shrewsbury, chisel jawed Sam Ricketts has gone all Trumpian, sacking his assistant manager and promoting his brother from another angular faced mother, Dean Whitehead. Ricketts is confident that the two will work well together; or tessellate, if you will.  

If there’s one thing GLS has missed more than a bucket of woo woo at Shaggers Bar in Torremolinos, it’s speculation that KRob wants to add another midfielder to his endless collection. So, it’s heartwarming to see that Rochdale’s Ollie Rathbone has been linked with a move to the club. Premier League giants Sunderland are interested, along with Fleetwood. Manager Joey Barton is said to be ‘punch in your face and charged with common assault’ excited by the prospect. 

Wednesday August 26 August 2020

Accrington Stanley (who are they?) have targeted the 1980s Milk Marketing Board Derby against Oxford on September 26 to trial allowing fans to attend the game. The game will be limited to 700 home fans, representing Accrington’s record attendance.  

Meanwhile sharpshooters the EFL have discovered a brand new technology called The Internet, which will stream all EFL matches via its iFollow service. We’re no technology experts, but as far as we can work out this is rather like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with an ear bud. 

Thursday 27 August 2020

He’s ginger, he’s a whinger, he used to choose when he was injured; Dave Kitson has been shouting from the tall tower he looks down on everyone from reflecting on how he propelled Chris Wilder to greatness. His failed time at Sheffield United resulted in manager Danny Wilson getting fired, then his failed time at Oxford saw Chris Wilder getting fired, which resulted in Wilder managing Sheffield United. The rest is history; you are welcome, Chris, says Dave.

Elsewhere, Tony McMahon, The 2018 Phil Edwards, has gone a bit Martin Gray and signed for Darlington.

Friday 28 August 2020

Fantasy Football League phenom, John Lundstram, is centre of a catfight between West Ham and Steven Gerrard’s quest to create McOxford by joining Kemar Roofe at Rangers. George Waring is packing a suitcase full of Tennants Super in preparation for a call.

Saturday 29 August 2020

Oxford’s first home friendly resulted in a 1-0 over QPR with a goal from Matty Taylor. The game evoked memories of the Milk Cup Final; apart from the fans, prestige or Ken Fish looking like an army physical training instructor from the 1950s. The real drama was on the sidelines where sulky sixth former Rob Dickie didn’t even make the squad, which led to anti-maskers, anti-vaxers and conspiracy theorists to conclude it was because Bill Gates has put nano bots in the 5G network to prevent promising central defenders play friendly games of football. I mean, it makes you think, doesn’t it, the MSM don’t report that do they?

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.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Hey Yaw!

Sunday 16 August 2020

The 92 Club is where overweight middle-aged men with Status Quo patches on their denim jackets try to visit every ground in the country. The 92 refers to the number of social media interactions they have every day with young girls in short skirts that claim to be both real and Ipswich Town fans. Sulky sixth-former Rob Dickie is closing in on his own 92 club landmark as Newcastle became the 88th club this summer interested in signing him.

Monday 17 August 2020

The draw for the world’s oldest socially distanced football tournament – the EFL Trophy – was made on Monday, or at least part of it. The draw was held in the middle of a desolate forest in the dead of the night by two druids and a mountain goat. Probably, but frankly who cares? In it, we drew Walsall and Bristol Rovers. Early games are likely to be played without fans, so no change there then. 

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Oxford announced that its new sponsor was the Thai tourist authority Amazing Thailand. Tourism sponsors are very much on trend in League 1 – as well as the sun drenched paradise of Thailand, Blackpool will be promoting their own town as the country’s chlamydia capital while Swindon are sponsored ‘Imagine Cruising’ or as they’re properly known ‘Imagine cruising on a coronavirus incubator’.

In the Type 2 Diabetes Cup, Oxford have been drawn against Fash The Bash and co – Wimbledon – while the Chelsea Muppet Babies have been added to our EFL Trophy group.   

Wednesday 19 August 2020

The club caused mega-ROFLs by ostentaciously announcing the new club socks before revealing their new yellow t-shirt for the season. The story of absolute bantz caused total scenes and was picked up by the Daily Mail whose reader Dandada14 lambasted the story for its poor journalism. Blimey, wait until he hears about the Brexit lies and racebating of Meghan Markle. 

Squad numbers were announced on Wednesday causing amateur numerologists everywhere to pour over the mystical meaning of each proclamation. Jedward orphan Mark Sykes has been elevated to the number 10 shirt, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of previous Oxford number 10s Craig Farrel, Andy Thomson and Courtney Pitt by becoming a regular punchline to a weakly structured GLS gag.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Jack Midson, who increasingly looks like the local fitness instructor working his way around all the Year 2 mums at the local primary school, has signed for Sheppey United. Meanwhile in Preston, Ryan Ledson has put pen to paper and a late two footed knee-high lunge on a new contract extension

Friday 21 August 2020

Fixture release day is the day that football fans up and down the country excitedly plan the games they’re going to miss due to a catastrophic coronavirus second wave. Oxford’s season opens against one of the big guns; MApp’s Lincoln. The home derby against Swindon is scheduled for October 24th. For once Oxford United fans and Boris Johnson speak with one voice when they say they’d rather their gran died a slow painful death on her own of a respiratory illness than see that one played behind closed doors.

Elsewhere, Liam Kelly, who looks like the kid whose dad paid a substantial donation to the PTA so he could play the lead in the end of year rendition of Bugsy Malone, is back for a season’s loan. In a surprise move, Oxford also signed Frenchman Derick Osei Yaw; in terms of French Oxford United players, we don’t know whether he’ll be a gem-ey like Christophe Remy or as dead as a Doudou. 

Saturday 22 August 2020

On Monday Brian Horton publishes his autobiography; ‘Horton Out’. It’s not called that, of course, but we’re excited to read the true stories of the times he took teams like Oxford to lower mid-table finishes, along with the thrilling run to a Full Member’s Cup Semi-Final with Hull.

In a lengthy interview with Hull Live, Horton talks about the time Cesc Fabregas allegedly spat at him. He says of the spit “He denied it and got away with it … but it’s all covered in the book.” Readers are advised to give the book a good wipe before reading.

Elsewhere, Oxford beat Banbury 5-0 in a friendly with a scrabble score of goalscorers in Agyei, Osei Yaw and another new signing, Dylan Asonganyi. Nick Harris is expected to announce his retirement within days.

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.