George Lawrence’s Shorts: Karlma chameleon

Monday 29 July 2019

Like a religious leader in an inner-city riot, KRob has appealed for calm as the season opener against Sunderland approaches. “It’s a little bit dark right now.” said the man appealing for calm. “We know we need a striker, I don’t need people telling me that. We know we need a centre back and two wingers.” he added rubbing a soothing balm into our collective temples, “People will be shouting when they read this, saying ‘the season starts on Saturday’. We know, we’re not stupid.”

Just like a scented candle flickering by a bubble bath.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

*ching*

We live in an oasis of calm. Ah man, the news that Gavin Whyte has signed for Cardiff is, like, whatever man. The fee described as ‘north of £2m’ is, we assume, one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s old-fangled imperial measures. Some say Whyte will be out of his depth, but we have video evidence that he can hold his own. 

Just as the sweat dried on Whyte’s number ten shirt, Ben Woodburn signed on a season long loan from Liverpool. The Welsh wunderkind has lost his way a bit at Anfield and so a year at Oxford will act as a form of immersion therapy to propel him out of his stupor. 

Elsewhere, there could be a new opportunity for the Us to go steaming into the Kassam on a matchday if plans to build a station near the stadium go ahead. It’ll be situated on the Science Park, who will no doubt lobby for it to close on a Saturday.

Wednesday 31 July 2019

KRob donned his headphones and hopped in a helicopter as he turned all Anneka Rice attempting to solve a world of riddles and problems in the space of an hour. The boilersuited beauty managed to end the day signing Anthony Forde, formerly of Rotherham, Rob Dickie on a longer term contract before picking up a new contract for himself

Across town The Britannia Inn in Oxford will soon have a blue plaque on the wall recognising it as the site of Oxford United’s founding 125 years ago. The plaque will act as a timely reminder that nothing good ever comes from a pub dream.

Thursday 1 August 2019

Good god, is there nothing KRob won’t ruin? The sludge pit of naysaying has dried up leaving the doomgoblins picking crust from between their toes. Following yesterday’s sickening cavalcade of good news, he’s now signed the millennial Jon Ashton; Elliot Moore from Leicester City. We are rapidly approaching that point where there is literally nothing to complain about.

But what news of Oxford United’s greatest ever Leichensteiner? We hear you ask. Benji Buchel kept a clean sheet as FC Vaduz turned around a 1-0 deficit to beat Hungarian’s Vidi 2-1 in the second leg of their Europa League tie. We have no idea what that means, but we’re pretty sure it’s good. They play Eintracht Frankfurt in the next round.

Friday 2 August 2019

KRob is strutting about like a management accountant whose wife has allowed him a rare foray into the martial bed for a fumble under her nightie. Having scored a couple of times this week, he wants more, two more strikers, in fact. We think we’ve got one of our headaches coming on.

Kemar Roofe has had his chips at Leeds, it seems, and plans to dip them in mayonnaise by signing for those unelected Brussels bureaucrats Anderlecht.

And with that, the summer is done; this is it; the Mark Angel derby awaits, football is back to ruin everything.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Ah, Whyte’s lemon trade

Monday 22 July 2019

What’s that noise wafting from the hazy embers of the weekend? Why, it’s a lute, which can only mean GLS The Bard is back. What stories do you have of the kingdom, The Bard…?

With a hey nonny, nonny…
KRob is excited, he might just get his man
Chris Cadden’s coming, that’s the master plan
Not a simple signing, a normal thing to do
He’s probably going to join us, via Columbus Crew
If he does come to us, we’d have to pay a fee
But if he goes to them, they’ll get their guy for free
In FIFA’s eyes at least, The Crew are rated poor
Where we are rated richer, so we’d be paying more
They’d loan the boy to us, avoiding paying fees
And Motherwell miss out, so they’re not very pleased
So, KRob is excited, he might just get his man
This is modern football, not a shyster scam
With a hey nonny nonny…

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Always trust a man with a lute and a pair of vacuum packed multi-coloured tights – unless they arrive unannounced at a primary school. GLS the Bard was right, Chris Cadden has signed on loan from Columbus Crew

Cadden went straight into the starting line up for a play-date with Fulham, with whom we drew 1-1. Despite Cameron Brannagan being The Boris Johnson – playing the number 10 role he’s not equipped for – his assist led to Jose’s son, John Mousinho, equalising on the hour. It was the most fun KRob has had with Cottagers since that night in those secluded woods in 1998.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Like a mallet made of jelly, the city’s council are threatening to take Uncle Firoz’s lease for The Priory pub away from him. The Priory was rehab for fans wanting to drown their sorrows during Uncle Fizgog’s golden era of misery. As a metaphor for those times, the once loved pub has fallen into disrepair due to his neglect. Now fans are forced to use the authentic local coaching inn Ye Olde Bowlplex and the medieval Templar retreat Francis and Benedict’s for their pre and post-match wallow. 

Over in Europe, The Donkey of Dundalk – Pat Hoban scored a late equaliser for the Irishmen against Qarabag, from Azerbaijan. Interestingly Qarabag is old English for ‘carrier bag’. 

Thursday 25 July 2019

Once more into the fiery furnace of Lichensteiner football. Literally the greatest ever Lichensteiner to play for Oxford, Benji Buchel, was in goal for FC Vaduz’s Europa Cup tie against Hungarian’s Vidi. Sadly, Benji’s boys were defeated by a single goal in the 5th minute. All is not lost though, and the boys have an opportunity to claw back the deficit at Rheinpark Stadion next week.

Friday 26 July 2019

We all know that cosmopolitan sophisticat Çhrïštöphé Ŵíłdê can smoke Gaullist cigarettes, wear roll-neck jumpers and play pétanque until the sun sets, but underneath he is simply Neil Warncok rebooted. Well, the tables have turned, now professional curmudgeon Warnock is doing a Ŵíłdê and packing his squad with Oxford players. Following Curtis Nelson, rumours are abound that Warnock is keen on Gavin Whyte, he likes the cut of his jib, and the swing of his tackle.

Saturday 27 July 2019

It’s always a good idea to line up a friendly against a vastly inferior opponent a week before the season starts to administer a confidence boosting pasting before the serious stuff kicks off. That didn’t go to plan for Solihull Moors who were held to a draw by Oxford United on Saturday. KRob played his strongest, and only, eleven players.

George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Durnin time

Monday 15 July 2019

What. A. Week.

Of sport.

We’re all recovering from a mind blowing few days of sporting endeavour; there was Lewis Hamilton winning the British Grand Prix, England winning the cricket World Cup, Benji Buchel keeping a clean sheet in FC Vaduz’s Europa League qualifier, Federer and Djokovic duking it out at Wimbledon over five hours, England trouncing everyone in the Netball World Cup and Thomas De Gendt’s epic breakaway win in the Tour de France.

Wait, what? Yes, the master of the scrambled corner clearance Benji Buchel is now with FC Vaduz who drew 0-0 in the Europa League against Icelandic giants Breidablik. As we said: What. A. Week.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

The two most feared letters in any pre-season are X and I, when put together it transforms a prestige friendly against a progressive, glamorous league club into a meaningless husk of a kick around featuring four trialists, six teenagers and a competition winner from a local school. Sure enough, tonight’s Charlie Methven ‘check out these loafers’ derby with Eastleigh was cursed with an XI as an Oxford United XI went down 0-3.

Wednesday 17 July 2019 

If you’ve endured more than a week of GLS, then you’ll know of Jill Sharp, the loon-eyed Rangers fan spotted at Ibrox a couple of weeks ago for our friendly gubbing from Steven Gerard’s Tax Avoiding army. Well, that game was her last taste of freedom, as she’s been sentenced to a year in prison for stalking some poor sap. Now her cougar-like tendencies have been pegged back, expect Jamie Mackie’s injury to clear up rapidly.

Thursday 18 July 2019

The immovable object meets the irresistible force after PClot signed Dan Crowley from Dutch side Will.I.Am. Quite how PClot’s tactical rigamortis will align to Dan Crowley’s more fluid professionalism and his Trump-esque appreciation of his own abilities (I am great, which has been proved because I say I am, and if you say I’m not you’re lying) remains to be seen.

Friday 19 July 2019

Is it Friday already? KRob described this week as a big one for transfers, and sure enough, the two big additions to next season’s effort have been revealed – Shandon Baptiste is ahead of schedule with recovery from injury (it’s like having a new signing, while not having a new signing) and we have a brand new, er, pitch which is apparently going to give us an advantage. A 20-goals a season advantage? OK, then.

So, we have to look to Europe for our good news (suck on that BoJo). Benji Buchel’s Europa League adventure continues after FC Vaduz beat Breidablik 2-1 in the second leg of their tie. They go to Hungarians Vidi in the next round.

Saturday 20 July 2019

There is no more evocative fixture in Oxford lore than a game against Queens Park Rangers. The Peter Hucker derby was held on Saturday with QPR strolling to a 2-1 win.

Earlier, the club revealed their new away kit, a white number with a blue and yellow sash. The launch was only available to personal callers to the club shop who put photos of it on Twitter. The club promised lots of ‘content’ would be given to internet people later, which turned out to be slightly better photos of the previously revealed new shirt.

Sunday 21 July 2019

We end the week with a wholesome story of all round fun guy Johnny ‘lager’ Durnin. Durnin has been convicted of racially aggravated assault after he grabbed a 74 year-old pensioner by the throat and punched him in the face calling him a ‘Paki bastard’ at a drive-through McDonalds. Durnin denies the charge, claiming it was mere aggravated assault. So that’s OK then. However, afterwards it was revealed that Durnin had thrown a coffee cup at a cyclist a week earlier, perhaps it wasn’t even aggravated, but the charge of ‘habitual assault’ doesn’t currently exist.

Midweek Fixture: The 2016 JPT Final team – where are they now?

Before it was infested by Under 23 Premier League teams, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was a half decent tournament. At least when you got to the final. The last to maintain its integrity was 2016 where we faced Barnsley in the final. It was a joyous affair, despite the 3-2 defeat. Where are those brave men now?

Benji Büchel

Likeable weak link in an otherwise relentlessly effective team. Shared glove-based responsibilities with Sam Slocombe for most of the season. Replaced by Simon Eastwood once promotion was confirmed. Eventually went to Barnet on loan where he was briefly announced as playing for their ladies team. Now at FC Vaduz, he’s been capped by Lichenstein over 20 times and recently played against Italy.

Jonjoe Kenny

More than capable right-back signed on loan from Everton filling a not inconsiderable hole left by George Baldock. Slotted seamlessly into the team under the tutelage of Alex MacDonald. Headed back to Everton, playing the final game of the 2015/16 season. He was part of the England team which won the Under 20 World Cup in 2017. Has spent most of his time since in and out of their starting eleven at The Toffees.

Johnny Mullins (captain)

Started the season as a first choice centre-back before falling down the pecking order. Captained the side due to Jake Wright not being fully fit. Headed for Luton at the end of the promotion season where he won promotion, before joining Cheltenham.

Chey Dunkley

Cheyenne Amarni Keanu Roma Dunkley cemented a place in Oxford United folklore at Wembley by doing a Cruyff turn in his own box. Also managed to score Barnsley’s first goal. Spent most of the season overcoming Johnny Mullins in the centre of defence. Scored a decisive goal against Wycombe to seal promotion, dominant in our first year in League 1 before signing for Wigan Athletic. Won promotion to The Championship the following season.

Jordan Evans

Signed on loan from Fulham in January 2016, played only nine games before heading back. Started due to an injury to Joe Skarz. A Welsh Under-21 international, his professional career petered out, playing for Wrexham and Bala Town before ending up at Cefn Druids, A man with hidden talents, Evans is a qualified hairdresser and plays in the band Faded Strangers.

Alex MacDonald

Lovable tireless winger signed from Burton at Michael Appleton’s lowest ebb. Boundless enthusiasm for the game dragged us out of the fug and into the 2015/16 season. A regular through the promotion year before being unceremoniously sold to Mansfield Town.

Josh Ruffels

Oxford United survivor originally signed by Chris Wilder from Coventry City. Made the starting eleven due to a lunging John Lundstram tackle which gained a red card and a ban. Players came and went, as did managers, but Ruffels stayed. Mostly played in midfield, but converted to full-back under Karl Robinson, became a specialist in spectacular last minute goals.

Liam Sercombe

Wide shouldered marauding midfielder whose goals from midfield were critical to pretty much everything we did well that season. Scored a decisive goal at Carlisle at the end of the season. The following season in League One he continued his good form until he fell out with Michael Appleton, possibly over his reaction to only being a substitute in the JPT Final against Coventry the following season, where he also scored. Signed for Bristol Rovers in the summer.

Callum O’Dowda

Career-minded local boy flitted in and out of the team throughout the promotion season. Scored the opener in the final to wild celebration. Also scored the last goal of the season against Wycombe before flouncing off to Bristol City in the summer. A Republic of Ireland international.

Kemar Roofe

Ethereal goal machine who initially joined on loan from West Brom. Heralded a new era when he was announced as a permanent signing the following summer, smashed in over 20 goals before joining Leeds United for £4m.

Danny Hylton

Precise, analytical, focussed – everything that Michael Appleton was, Danny Hylton wasn’t. Signed by Gary Waddock weeks before the Darryl Eales revolution took hold. Stuck to the first team like chewing gum on your shoe. Scored the second goal which briefly raised hopes of a revival. At the end of the season, he headed for Luton Town where he won promotion. More recently spent most of his time cheerleading from the sidelines as Luton head for the Championship.

Substitutes:

Sam Slocombe

Initially signed to replace Ryan Clarke, Slocombe’s patchy form saw him chopping and changing with Benji Buchel throughout the season. Missed out on Wembley, but played in our 3-2 giant killing over Swansea. The signing of Simon Eastwood pushed him out the door to Blackpool. Lasted a year before going to Bristol Rovers. Loaned to Lincoln in 2019.

Jake Wright

A leader of men who was signed by Chris Wilder in 2010. Won promotion to the Football League at the end of that year. Injury meant he missed out on being the first Oxford United player to play at Wembley twice. Led the team to promotion, but re-joined Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a defensive re-shuffle when Curtis Nelson arrived. Won promotion with the Blades where he still is, albeit now sidelined by injury.

Sam Long

A player who seemed to be so frequently injured, successive managers didn’t have the heart to release him. Survived Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and became a regular in Karl Robinson’s starting eleven.

Josh Ashby

Once heralded as the future of the football club; Ashby achieved just seven appearances before being released. Signed for Oxford City.

George Waring (replaced Callum O’Dowda)

A proper unit signed on loan from Stoke City, flitted in and out of the team scoring once. Following a series of loan moves he headed for Tranmere before joining Chester in 2019.

Chris Maguire (replaced Alex MacDonald)

Enigmatic magician signed on loan from Rotherham. Sulked from one club to another, disgusted by the mediocrity around him. At Oxford, however, he bloomed and signed permanently in 2016. Scored twice in a derby win over Swindon and generally oozed genius. Appleton’s departure scuppered chances of a renewed contract where he made a disasterous move to Bury. Following their relegation he was signed by Sunderland where he initially regained form. Slipped out of the reckoning as the season progressed.

Jordan Bowery (replaced Danny Hylton)

One of numerous target men that Michael Appleton signed. Unlike most of the others, he weighed in with seven goals during his time with the club including a critical winner at Portsmouth. Dropped to the Conference with Leyton Orient where he failed to find any form. Signed on loan with Crewe before being made permanent, scoring twenty goals for the club.

World Cup of: Oxford United Goalkeepers

Runners and riders

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.

Choosing sixteen goalkeepers is pretty easy; I could have gone back to the 60s – Jim Barron was mentioned in despatches – but it seemed pointless. Plus, I couldn’t tell one decent keeper from yore from another. There was also the temptation of including players who were one-offs; there’s Elliot Jackson, who was in goal when we played Chelsea in 1999, or Mike Salmon who conceded seven against Birmingham in his one and only game.

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

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.

And finally, Billy Turley; a classic terrace favourite; a bit of a clown and a decent, if erratic, keeper. Against him, though, was the fact he was between the sticks when we were relegated to the Conference in 2006. All said and done; most people will look back fondly.

Inevitably, Clarke took the honours with 77% of the vote with Billy Turley edging out Steve Hardwick for second.

Group B

There was no more one-sided group than Group B. Current glovesman, Simon Eastwood, was first out of the hat at which point it was all about who might finish second.

Chris Tardif, mostly an understudy to Billy Turley, was next with Ken ‘The Tree’ Veysey. Veysey played between 1990 and 1992. He was also in goal for Dorchester when we inflicted out 9-1 record win in 1995. There’s always one player who your not sure about including; Veysey was the man this time.

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.

Group C

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.

Paul Reece was second up; Reece, like many Oxford goalkeepers, had a good rapport with the fans. Many London Roaders will remember him with fondness. He also had one thing up his sleeve; he was the man who put in, perhaps, the greatest goalkeeping display of any goalkeeper in our history. On live TV; the 1-0 win over Derby County.

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%.

Group D

And finally, Group D. This was headed up by Alan Judge, the mullet haired goalkeeper in our Milk Cup win and a player whose appearances spread no less than 19 years due to a goalkeeping crisis in 2004 .

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.

Quarter-finals

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.

Semi-finals

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.

Final

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 verdict

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.

Of the other two; Phil Whitehead has the benefit of history, and the 1996 promotion, on his side. He also played at a higher level than the others. I can also remember a save against Port Vale which was nothing short of miraculous. Clarke, I remember more abstractly, as generally critical to our success. Promotion to the Football League, I think, was more important than ’96, but Clarke’s ‘moment’ was dropping the ball into his goal in the play-off final. A cruel thing to be remembered for, there were so many other times when he saved us.

All told, I think, just about, Phil Whitehead is still probably the best ‘keeper I’ve seen, but it’s pretty close.