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.
So, the tournament format is simple; four groups of four players. People vote for their favourites via a Twitter poll. The top two qualify for the knock-out stages – head-to-heads in the quarter-final, semi-final and final, until you have a winner.
No, in the end the choice was reasonably straight forward. A regularly starting keeper often stays for three or four years, meaning over a 30 year period the sixteen selected themselves.
Group A was a mixed bag; first up was Steve Hardwick, something of a forgotten man during our heyday. Hardwick was our first choice keeper during both title seasons between 1983 and 1985. He lost his place to Alan Judge when we got to the top flight meaning he missed the Milk Cup.
He was up against a clear contender in Ryan Clarke. Clarke, a legendary keeper in our promotion back from the Conference was in the sweet spot a first choice keeper with a notable success, that most people will remember him.
Andre Arendse was third; the South African international keeper was brought in at the start of the 2000 season. Despite having played in The Word Cup, Arendse was never likely to last long in such company.
Finally, well regarded Andy Woodman completed the group. Woodman was Ian Atkins’ go-to man in 2002 and was part of an effective, if not particularly pretty, defensive unit which threatened, briefly, to get us promoted.
Inevitably, Simon Eastwood took the crown with no less than 90% of the vote; Andy Woodman joined him in the quarter-finals with 5%, inevitably the lowest qualifier.
It all kicked off in Group C. Benji Buchel, the Liechtensteiner who kept goal for a majority of our 2016 promotion season was the obvious choice to many. Let’s face it, Twitter is a young-ish crowd, anyone who helps recall such vivid memories is always going to do well.
But, the hipsters were having none of it. The three other contenders had their own qualities; like Krautrock or ambient house, if only the kids would spend time getting to know it, they would learn to look beyond the immediate.
Then, there was Pal ‘porn star’ Lundin, who alongside Arendse, kept goal at the turn of the millennium. And finally, there was Richard Knight one of our greatest goalkeepers in our worst ever team. Knight conceded over 100 goals in 2001, but still put in displays that earned him player of the season. He was so shellshocked by the experience, he never really recovered.
In the end Buchel’s early surge took it with 42% of the vote. Paul Reece devotees ensured a narrow second with 25%.
Second, was Sam Slocombe, who shared duties with Benji Bucheli in 2016. Slocombe never really lived up to expectations, and was always likely to struggle in such hot company.
Third was Roy Burton, the oldest contender in the competition. Burton was known for his enormous shorts falling down as he kicked the ball downfield with his bum crack regularly on show. They were different times.
And finally, there was God, Phil Whitehead. A giant of the 1996 promotion winning team, and surely a contender for the ultimate title.
In the end, Whitehead took the group with 44% of the vote, a tough battle saw Roy Burton edge out Alan Judge for second.
With the wheat and chaff separated, it was down to business. The first quarter-final saw Ryan Clarke up against Roy Burton. Clearly Clarke had currency on his side, taking 71% of the vote, but Burton, a genuine legend who wore the ‘keeper’s shirt for 11 years and whose last game was 37 years ago took a decent chunk of the vote.
Second up was the increasingly dominant Simon Eastwood against Billy Turley. Turley’s crowd pleasing banter was no match for Eastwood’s understated consistency, showing that ability was always going to outgun personality. Eastwood scorched away with 93% of the vote.
Perhaps surprisingly, Paul Reece’s gallant run to the quarter-finals came to an end at the hands of Andy Woodman. Again, Woodman probably benefitted from being slightly more recent than Reece, but Reece was the ‘keeper most people actively supported.
Finally, Benji Buchel was up against Phil Whitehead. Two promotion goalies; twenty years apart. But, Buchel was never the most convincing between the sticks and Whitehead was, well, God collecting 79% of the vote.
There’s a point in every tournament when the immovable object meets the irresistible force. The semi-finals threw up the holy trinity of modern Oxford ‘keeping – Eastwood, Clarke and Whitehead, with Woodman bringing up the rear. They couldn’t all win.
The first semi-final was the first true clash of the titans. Ryan Clarke went up against Simon Eastwood. The result was perhaps a surprise, nobody doubts Simon Eastwood’s ability or influence on the current team, but has his legend cemented into Oxford folklore in the same way that Ryan Clarke’s has? Or is it that Clarke is already ancient history and we’re just getting old? It was Eastwood’s biggest challenge yet, and though less emphatic than previous rounds; 67% of the vote was still pretty resounding.
Semi-final two was perhaps more predictable. Andy Woodman was a solid cog in a solid team, but he was never likely to match Phil Whitehead. Whitehead romped home with 80% of the vote.
And so to the final. Simon Eastwood v Phil Whitehead. Eastwood had streaked through the early rounds taking over 90% of the vote before trouncing a clear favourite. But, arguably – up to the semi-finals – he’d had the easier run. Also, Whitehead’s career is behind him, so his mistakes and failings are long forgotten leaving a unblemished record.
The early voting saw Whitehead streaking into the lead, a sign, perhaps, that there were more nostalgic types idly flicking through Twitter. Eventually, though, Eastwood began to claw it back and by the half-way stage was polling around 2/3rds of the vote.
Although in the second half of the vote, Whitehead pulled it back to 38%, the gap was too great. Simon Eastwood had won the World Cup of #oufc Goalkeepers.
The right result? That all depends on what you’re voting for. The best keeper? The most legendary? If you’re talking personalities, then Billy Turley and Andy Woodman would be strong contenders. On ability alone, Steve Hardwick and Paul Reece were both exciting to watch.
For me, I’ll always fondly remember Roy Burton because he was the ‘keeper when I started going to The Manor. I’ll never forget his bum crack poking out from his shorts, or how impressed I was that he could kick the ball to the half-way line. I remember very clearly, the day he started wearing gloves thinking that he’d done the goalkeeping equivalent of landing on the moon.
But, the Holy Trinity of modern Oxford goalkeeping is Phil Whitehead, Ryan Clarke and Simon Eastwood. It was appropriate they made the semi-finals. For me, though, Eastwood is the junior partner in the trio, and his lasting place in it will depend on what happens in the rest of his time at the club. He’s a great keeper, but he needs a moment, a promotion perhaps, to truly cement his place in our history.
Andre Arendse didn’t look like a goalkeeper. He wasn’t impossibly big and/or fat and/or funny looking like most ‘keepers. He was slight and immaculately turned out and wore tracksuit trousers whatever the weather. He looked like the effete twat at school who hated football but hung out with the cool girls. The one you’ve since found out, via Facebook, is living in a gay civil partnership in a North London townhouse with a trademark lawyer and their two adopted Vietnamese children.
The timing of his arrival wasn’t good. Austerity measures were biting and Arendse was the latest solution following the Phil Whitehead firesale. Becoming the new ‘God’ was always a tall order.
But, he was an international. South African, yes, but with African football starting to lose its naiveté stigmata, there was a ripple of optimism around the place.
The club seemed to have two first choice ‘keepers. The other was Pal Lundin, a ‘keeper so stereotypically Swedish he could have been a Roy of the Rovers character. Looking like a Nordic woodsman with flowing locks he was already a Manor favourite. He even scored the winning penalty in a Full Members’ Cup tie against Wycombe – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Arendse was above all this competitiveness. He indulged only in his favourite bits of the goalkeeping craft. For him, only shot stopping was worthy of his attention. The more prosaic elements of his profession; crosses, kicking, organising your back-four, were indulges of the peasantry. Arendse never belittled himself with these trivialities.
Fittingly for his stature, he played in the underwhelming World Cup of 2002 where he used his three group games to demonstrate his goalkeeping philosophy.
Arendse managed just eleven appearances for Oxford in a failing team. He sloped off after one season playing for clubs that sound like holiday camps; Santos, Mamelodi Sundowns and Supersport United. His international career ended in 2004, although his credibility as an international goalkeeper departed some time before that.
According to Wikipedia he’s still with Supersport at the age of 42, Supersport’s website has no reference to him. It seems he’s lost in the wilderness somewhere. Which pretty much describes his positional sense.