KRob was the selectah on the Radio Oxford 10 Minute 26 Second Fans Forum which, frankly, isn’t even trying anymore. He said he was more than happy to commit the time in the name of transparency. Questions were all about players. ‘Will Josh Ruffels sign a new contract?’ Maybe, said KRob transparently. ‘Are Joel Cooper and Sean Clare in his plan?’ Perhaps, he said translucently. ‘Can we sign Marcus McGuane and Brandon Barker?’ Clearly he can’t say. ‘Will Brannagain sign again? Or Jack Stevens be at the club next season?’ We’ll see, he concluded transpicuously.
It’s the 25th anniversary of our 1996 promotion; presumably the club would’ve done something to mark the occasion in another year, but it seems to have passed quietly. I realise now that the nineties was similar to how my parents experienced the sixties. It was a cultural explosion and a time of happy abandon. 1996 was pretty much its peak – as well as our promotion in May, Euro 96 was in June and Oasis’ era-defining concert at Knebworth in August. It wasn’t for everyone, but it was a pretty special time.
Understandably, the ‘96 promotion is held up as a halcyon campaign, a benchmark of what can be achieved. It pivoted on a remarkable end of season run which took us from mid-table to second in a period of a few months.
The defining moment was an Easter double-header against Blackpool on the Saturday and Wycombe on the following Monday. The contrast between the two games couldn’t have been more stark. The Blackpool game was tense and tight, cold and grey, at Wycombe, it was springlike, joyous and carefree. The two wins, with Joey Beauchamp’s 35 yard smasher and Stuart Massey hanging off the crossbar transformed the run from one of hope to one of expectation.
After a 1-1 draw with Notts County we seemed to smash through every barrier put in front of us; 2-0 against Bristol City, 6-0 against Shrewsbury, 2-1 against Crewe and a promotion securing 4-0 win against Peterborough. Blackpool picked up two points in the same period – a story which is often forgotten – they contrived to lose the last three games of the season meaning we were promoted by a point.
You’ll often hear reference to this campaign when we’re hovering outside the play-offs with indifferent form. It’s like the 5-5 draw with Portsmouth in 1992 – there are fans who stay to the bitter end of games just because of that game. It doesn’t matter what mess you’re in, there’s always a chance.
This season has felt like one of those that needs to be constantly referenced back to 1996; we just need a run like that one to give us the momentum to propel us in the play-offs. Then, you never know.
The only similarity with ‘96 is that this weekend’s Easter fixtures seem to have been pivotal in setting a final descent to where we’ll end up this year. Unlike in 96, it’s some way off where we want to be.
Yesterday’s defeat to Accrington, following Friday’s defeat to Sunderland, confirmed what’s been coming for a long time. We weren’t completely awful, we just weren’t quite firing. But, we’ve lived in hope of a 1996-style revival and dramatic run to success. For weeks we’ve been ‘only three points’ off the play-offs ignoring the fact that, at the top of the table, you need to win two to three games for every point you need to claw back.
The 1996 mindset, coupled with the 2010 play-off, another promotion secured at the last gasp, seems to have created a mindset that this is the way we, Oxford United, get promoted. Resulting from an extraordinary run, a pivotal moment, by the skin of our teeth. That seems to be the Oxford way.
But promotion don’t need to be like that, it doesn’t need to be against the odds, the best teams don’t sneak their way to success, they become an unrelenting winning machines. That focus, gives you the headroom in case something fails. At the moment, one mistake or a couple of injuries, and we’re out of it.
What does that mean in practice? We need to develop a nasty streak. We are incredibly easy to like; we play good football, we’re entertaining to watch, we treat our fans well. Our young players get their chance to develop, local players are regulars, there are few, if any, players that we don’t like.
Karl Robinson will often refer back to the all-conquering Liverpool team of the mid-eighties. In some ways he sees Oxford being the centre of a community in the way Liverpool were then. But, they were also a nasty team; physical, bullying, unrelentingly demanding. John Aldridge, no wall flower and very much a successful Liverpool player in that era found the atmosphere around the club intimidating. As a player, if you didn’t meet the squads exacting standards, you were rejected from the pack.
It’s a choice, ultimately, do we evolve slowly, sticking to our values, taking our chances when they come, or do we demand success and become intolerant to failure? If we choose that path, it’s going to be difficult and disruptive, players we like become assets that need to perform or leave. It makes me uncomfortable to be like that, there are few players I’d want to show the door because they’re not good enough, but the reality is that they’re demonstrably not good enough.
We don’t need to follow that path, of course, we can continue in our current vein and I’m torn. History tells us that there will be opportunities and successes down this path. While they’re great when they come, patience is everything. When you consider we haven’t won a league title for 36 years you have to think; how long do we tolerate the Oxford Way?
Asylum seeking Jedward orphan Mark Sykes hasn’t found the Republic of Ireland to be a land of milk and honey since he switched allegiance from the North. He had hoped to play in the Republic’s games against Slovakia, Wales and Finland. Like a lorry driver with a truck load of life saving medicines on the Kent border in January, he’s still waiting for the paperwork to go through.
It was the Five Minute Thirty Three Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford on Thursday with Cameron Brannagain. Now at the ripe age of twenty-four, the man John Mousinho calls grandad, said he felt for youngster Marcus McGuane as he finds his feet at the club. He also said he was looking forward to playing in the Swindon derby in a stadium packed to the gills with empty seats. Then mad dem Robbie Hall proved himself to be the real Archbishop of Banterbury by trolling up de Brannas bout his ping pong skillz, my bruddah.
Worrying news from the North East, who have suffered great struggles in recent years; not only does it contain some of the most deprived areas in the country and is currently under strict lockdown, now we hear that Ian McGuckin is still in football, coaching at Bishop Auckland. Analysts say this could be the ponderous ex-Oxford defender that breaks the camel’s back.
Perhaps it was always going to take the activation of a coach’s safety system with an anti-bacterial spray to break a sequence of defeats. It’s the 2020 version of a striker breaking a goalless streak with the ball going in off his backside. Which never happens, but probably will before the year’s out.
It was good to see the reconnection of the supply line between James Henry and Matty Taylor after a few games where it’s been faulty. It’s such a vital artery of our attack, so much so that for me it’s the only explanation for James Henry’s infamous decision not to shoot at Wembley, Taylor was lurking at the back post it was such a reliable option, he looked for it.
Players, like Marcus Browne and form, like Cameron Brannagan’s, come and go meaning the Henry/Taylor supply line is the Panama Canal of the Oxford attack. Has there been a better combination than Johnny Byrne and Paul Moody? And before that, Billy Hamilton and John Aldridge? We’ve had many excellent forwards, but reliable combinations are exceedingly rare. It’s reasonable to say that while that combination remains intact, so do our promotion chances.
Having said I wasn’t planning on watching the game, inevitably, perhaps, I found another £10 and two hours to weld myself to the settee. It’s a dirty affliction. Again, to create the fig leaf of an away experience I kept the local commentary rather than choosing Radio Oxford. Their summary was that while we were worthy winners, there were some curious decisions that influenced the outcome.
Not least the penalty decision. They felt it was nailed on, I’m conflicted by it. It’s hard to imagine that Simon Eastwood’s intention was to punch the player in the face, seven feet in the air, eighteen yards from goal, in the full view of the referee in order to prevent an obvious goalscoring opportunity. An accident, for sure, but a foul? The only logical explanation is that Eastwood was punished for not giving due regard to another player’s safety, but it’s hard to imagine what he should have done instead. The punishment seemed disproportionate to what seemed quite obviously an accident.
The commentary team at BBC Lancashire were sure that things would have been different had there been a crowd. They talked about ‘1500 Stanley fans roaring them on’. Fifteen-hundred? Roaring? Whatever, you do wander how the referee would have acted if he’d had the benefit of the home fans’ advice. Eastwood didn’t even get a booking and then minutes later Dion Charles was sent off for a push. Would that have happened with fans? They doubted it, me too.
Of course, this had been earmarked as a test event. I’m perplexed by the suspending of the programme to return fans to games. As I see it, there are four levels of controlling coronavirus; a vaccine solves the problem, effective treatments reduces it, modifying behaviours and an effective testing manages it and a lockdown hides from it.
A full lockdown is only viable when the virus is out of control because of the trade off with the economy and the length of time people will comply. It buys some time to get testing in place and to learn more about effective modifications. You can debate whether the government has used that time wisely. Despite an apparent resurgence in cases, the announcements this week amounted to a minor tweaking of the modification rules. It’s questionable as to whether we ever locked down in the first place when comparing our restraints to others both in speed and severity, and that seems to be reflected in the resulting fatalities, which were among the highest in Europe.
I get that another full lockdown has severe consequences, and so we’re pretty much where we’ve been for the best part of four months – behaviour modification. Except in football.
This is not a Tim Martin babble about how nobody ever caught coronavirus in a Weatherspoons. There’s no way we should simply pretend the virus doesn’t exist. By general medical consensus, the passing of the virus between people is reduced significantly outdoors, so a football ground is theoretically far safer than plenty of other businesses which are currently open, not least pubs and cinemas.
They are also super-controlled environments – far more than any shop. One of the by-products of hooliganism in the 1980s and disasters like the Bradford fire, Hysel and Hillsborough is that stadiums are designed and managed to control people. All-seater areas ensure people are fixed in position, tickets are issued, databases maintained, entrances are well stewarded.
Developing a vaccine involves starting small and measuring the impact, if that’s successful then you move on to a larger and more varied sample, until such time that you can confidently predict what would happen if you made it available to all.
Football matches seem a perfect environment to do the same thing. You limit admission to people with tickets, maybe even only to those who are in a low-risk category and who are prepared to stick to some clear rules – such as arriving at a certain time, not moving from their allocated seat and be contacted afterwards. If that’s successful, try it again with more people, until we find the highest safe number of people that can watch a game without it significantly impacting the spread of the virus. The beauty of football is that there are plenty of games and lots of people willing to take part.
One argument for the pubs being kept open is the political benefit. it’s a bit like fishing rights in Brexit talks – from an economic perspective it’s irrelevant, but for some reason pro-Brexit campaigners obsess with the nationality of the fish they eat. But, wouldn’t crowds at football have a similar impact? Just a few fans dotted around the stands would provide a degree of political capital, promoting the idea that we were winning the battle against the virus. Every empty stadium is a reminder of where we are, and of our failings, on TV every day.
Or, perhaps, it’s easy to be lulled into the idea that this is part of a masterplan, maybe it’s just the case that they’re making it up as they go along. The first I heard of the suspending of the programme was when Michael Gove was on Breakfast TV and was asked about it. It hadn’t been part of the initial announcement. Was it even on his radar? Did he simply make a snap decision there and then? Once that hole is dug, on the spur of a moment, is it possible to get out of it?
Lockdown football is doing funny things to teams and games; Sunderland and Ipswich who have to live with the pressure of their under-performances, have started well without fans, Accrington, who benefit from being a small and contained unit – us against the world, greater than the sum of their parts – have struggled to find their feet now they’ve been reduced to simply being small. The longer the lockdown goes on, the more unpredictable this season will get, but you have to question whether it’s really necessary for it to last?
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.
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.
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?
There’s nothing better than a new kit; so the summer is new kit Christmas. Nearly everyone have revealed their kit for the new season. I’ll keep updating this post with new designs as they’re revealed. Here’s what we have so far…
Accrington are punching above their weight adopting Adidas as their kit manufacturer. Thankfully they’ve managed to bring the tone down a notch or two with an experimental dotty sleeve. It’s let Accrington down, it’s let Adidas down, but most of all, it’s let the lovely white shirt down.
We’re all shocked to our core with Blackpool’s new shirt; tangerine with white trim, like every Blackpool shirt in history. That said, it’s a nice enough design. Eagled eyed among you will see this template replicated elsewhere. In the least shocking news ever the away shirt is a simple reverse out of the home version.
The key to any artistic process is to know when to stop. Bristol Rovers have an iconic kit and it shouldn’t be difficult to pull a decent shirt out of the bag. This version has funny cuffs, collar, stripe down the arm, what appears to be some kind of camo shadowing. The second kit goes some way to redeeming things, but not much.
Burton Albion may be the most forgettable team in the division, and their new home shirt lives up to that reputation. One of this season’s trends is the re-introduction of the button collar, which we can all agree is a travesty. And yet, the away kit is so awful, apparently modelled on the faux medical uniform of a cosmetic surgery nurse, that the button may just improve it.
Without doubt Charlton have bigger problems than providing a decent new kit. The home shirt looks like every Charlton kit ever released, while the away shirt is probably a reflection of the mood around the club.
Crewe’s return to League 1 is marked by a retro red and black number, but it’s the away kit which is of most note, appearing to take inspiration from their shirt sponsor Mornflake Mighty Oats.
Thankfully Doncaster Rovers’ new shirt is identical to every Doncaster Rovers home shirt of the last decade. The red and white hoops are a classic not to be messed with. The away kit is also pretty sweet; maybe the best combo in the division?
To some people, the fact that Fleetwood Town exist and are managed by Joey Barton is confusing enough. This kit, which seems to adopt about nine different styles in one, is a proper head scrambler. The away kit, however, works really nicely – silver and mint, who knew?
Bit of an odd one this; Gillingham are perhaps the most meh team in League 1, and it appears that they’re sticking with the same kit as last season. It’s OK, Macron, the manufacturer, have a nice style about them. You could describe this as a bit meh, really.
Like all the teams coming down from the Championship, Hull have been slow to release their new shirt. The result is an unremarkable number, saved largely by the fact that it’s Umbro, giving it a nice traditional feel. The third kit (no second kit that I can ascertain) is a bit of an oddity; when I first saw it, I really liked it and thought it was one of the nicest in the division, then I looked again and find it a bit boring.
A tale of two shirts for Ipswich Town. An absolute beauty for the home shirt reminiscent of their heyday in the 1980s under Bobby Robson. The away shirt looks like someone has washed it with a tissue in the pocket.
Lincoln City play a classic card with their new shirt. There are few teams that wear red and white stripes who haven’t gone for the disruptive inverted colourway at some point. There will be Lincoln fans everywhere tearing up their season tickets at the abomination, but I like it. The away number is solid but unremarkable.
A solid home option for MK Dons, but you can’t deny they work hard to be the most despicable team in the league, the away shirt is black with gold trim? What are they? A Bond villain? Yes, yes they are.
I’ve always felt that Hummel offer a hipster’s choice when it comes to shirt manufacturing; typically because of their excellent work on the Danish national shirts in the mid-80s. I’ve also always liked Northampton’s colours. So, put together should be a sure fire winner. the away kit is OK until you look more closely, the strange central dribble, the fading pin stripes. They get away with it, but only just.
Look closely, well not that closely, and you’ll see the new Oxford shirt is the same Puma template as Blackpool and Swindon. Rumour has it that in real life it adopts the geometric pattern of the Peterborough shirt. It’s OK, for a title winning shirt.
Last season Puma made a big deal of their sublimated flux shirt designs, this year seems to have some kind of geometric update. There are randomised white flecks in there as well. A real nearly, but not quite design, a bit like Peterborough. The away shirt utilises the 437th Puma template of the division, and it’s a bit of a cracker, while nothing screams ‘Revenge season’ then a neon pink third kit.
Plymouth return to League 1 with a couple of scorchers. The home shirt is spoilt a bit with what appears to be a button collar, the away kit is absolutely magnificent. It’s difficult to imagine under what circumstances they would need a third kit, but it ticks some boxes.
One of the big favourites for the League 1 title next season have opted for a pretty conservative upgrade. What the heck is with that collar though? I quite like the away shirt with its white shadow stripes, it reminds me of our own away kit from the mid-eighties. Was there a three for two offer at Sports Direct? The unnecessary third kit looks like a reboot of our 2013/14 Animalates shirt.
You might call it armageddon chic; there’s a theme in a lot of kits where they’ve taken their standard design and given it a twist. Quite often it’s such a twist it comes off completely. Rochdale are just about the right side of acceptable with the blurred lined and shredded but at the top.
Aficionados of League 1 kit launches will know that Shrewsbury specialise in producing terrible promotional photography. For evidence try this, this or even this.This year is no different. Still, they get bonus points for adopting Admiral as their kit manufacturer. The away shirt takes inspiration from Oxford’s purple years when we were sponsored by Isinglass.
Our friends up the A420 have selected yet another Puma kit variation. How many templates does one manufacturer need? It’s a nice and simple design, ruined by the addition of a Swindon Town badge. The away shirt could not be less imaginative if it tried.
Let’s not kid ourselves; all teams use standard templates, but Sunderland’s new Nike shirt absolutely screams ‘park football’. The away shirt is Portsmouth’s home shirt in a different colour way, but that’s OK, I quite like it.
I was genuinely sad when I saw this; Wigan’s kit feels like a club that’s fallen apart with the off-the-peg template and the ironed-on ‘sponsor’ (let’s assume the Supporters Club have not paid a penny for this).
Have Wimbledon given up? They seem so bored with life they can’t be bothered to feature a decent logo of their sponsor and what can you say about the diagonal shadow stripe? They seem to trump it with the away shirt, which is going some. A shirt that screams relegation.