Midweek Fixture: The top 50 players of the 2000s – Ranked

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. The 2000s was a bleak decade for Oxford United, we dropped into the bottom tier of the Football League in 2001, then just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, out of the Football League altogether.

At the back end of last year, I asked you to vote for your favourite players from that godforsaken decade. This is how the top 50 ranked.

50. Matt Robinson

A friend of mine once asked why Matt Robinson wasn’t playing in the Premier League. The bald wonder had magic in his boots, if he had a decent striker to get on the end of his crosses, or alternatively Julian Alsopp, we always threatened.

49. Alan Judge

The first of many whose ranking is probably not down to his performances in the decade in question. Alan Judge played just two games as emergency cover in 2003 and 2004 and while that had a certain something about it, his ranking is probably more down to his Milk Cup Final appearance in 1986.

Defining moment: In the decade in question, let’s go for his last game for the club 19 years after his debut, aged 44. A 4-0 defeat to Southend.

48. Eddie Anaclet

A spritely full-back from our first season in the Conference. I had him down as the player of the season that year, another poll ranked him as the worst player in the squad. A breath of fresh air in a squad of has-beens and never-wases.

47. Scott McNiven

Once Scott McNiven got his backside between a striker and the ball, there was no getting around it. It was that big. A full-back – with Matt Robinson (50) on the other side – of the Ian Atkins vintage. 

46. Andy Scott

Endlessly likeable striker bought by Firoz Kassam in a panic from Brentford in 2001. Scott had scored a bucket load in the first half of that season, but never really hit the groove for us in what was a hopelessly failing side. 

Defining moment: Scored in a Boxing Day game against Luton Town in front of a full-house (we still lost).

45. Sam Ricketts

Angular faced full-back and academy product, Ricketts was squeezed out of the club in 2002 due to competition for players. He stepped down a few levels, but worked his way back into the Football League before playing 52 times for Wales. One that got away. 

44. Andy Burgess

A mercurial talent, but when the going got tough, Burgess went missing. Scored a wonder goal in the first game of the Conference season, but spent most of the rest of the season with his sleeves over his hands like a reluctant goth playing 4th Year house football.

Defining moment: The moment of magic against Chris Wilder’s Halifax Town in our first game in Conference.

43. Chris Tardif

Perpetual understudy to Andy Woodman, Tardif was a bit of a luxury in that he was too good to sit on the bench, though that’s what he did. Watching him and Alan Hodgkinson checking out the half-time scores instead of warming up was a staple of the Kassam Stadium mid-2000s experience.

42. Mark Watson

Our collapse down the league could be plotted in the quality of our centre-backs. From Elliot and Gilchrist to Wilsterman and Whelan. Mark Watson was the last of the great stoppers. Walked out of the club in 2000, and given what happened next, understandably so.

41. Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn was one of those salt-of-the-earth kind of players. He battled against hope to keep our promotion hopes alive during the mid-2000s. 

40. Rob Duffy

Perhaps the most divisive player of this or any decade. Jim Smith brought Duffy from Portsmouth to spearhead our fight back to the Football League in 2006. Duffy immediately started to repay him in goals, many from the penalty spot. Otherwise, he didn’t seem that bothered. Nobody could decide whether he was a goal machine or a lazy sod. In the play-off against Exeter in 2007 he found himself clean through only to weakly tap the ball back to their ‘keeper. It summed him up perfectly.

Defining moment: Rolling the ball into the hands of the Exeter ‘keeper in the play-off semi-final when clean through.

39. Sam Deering

A pocket sized ball of trouble. There was much wrong with Sam Deering; his racist comments about nurses, his Ugg boots, the fact he couldn’t get the ball in the box from a corner. When he broke his leg in Chris Wilder’s first game, Wilder – who called him ‘our best player’ – used it as a way of leveraging support for his way of working. In 2010 at Wembley he picked the ball up from Rhys Day on the edge of the area exchanged passes with Alfie Potter and the rest was history.

Defining moment: Best supporting actor in the third goal at Wembley.

38. Danny Rose

An absolutely solid, if unremarkable midfielder who joined in 2007 from Manchester United where he was their ‘reserve captain’. Too much was expected of him. Returned later to play his part in our 2015/16 promotion campaign. Then ruined it all by going to Swindon.

37. Paul Wanless

Another two-spell man. Having cut his teeth at Oxford, Wanless headed off to Cambridge where he became something of a legend. Returned at the tail end of his career in 2003.

36. Nigel Jemson

Yet another two spell man and, like Alan Judge, probably not at this level because of what he did during the decade. In his pomp, Jemson spearheaded an attack which kept us in the Championship during the late 90s. His return in 2000 miserably yielded no goals from 18 appearances. 

Defining moment: Screaming in the face of a kneeling and crestfallen Paul Moody for not passing to him when clean through on goal.

35. Manny Omoyimni

Manny Omoyimni was famous before he reached Oxford, while at West Ham he featured in a League Cup game for the Hammers having previously turned out for Gillingham in an earlier round. As a result, West Ham were thrown out of the competition. Omoyimni, didn’t really do much at the Manor in another failing team, but he tried hard and around that time, that was all you could ask for.

34. Matty Taylor

Memorable though they were, I’m speculating that Matty Taylor’s two appearances in the Setanta Shield in 2008 were not the prime reason for making number 34. Slipped off the radar, made his name elsewhere; a return this season has propelled him up the ratings.

33. Mateo Corbo

A surprisingly enduring spirit. Corbo’s defining characteristic during his thirteen game spell at the club was his ability to get booked. 

32. Lee Bradbury

A striker who was too good for the team that he played with; or so the argument goes. Bradbury signed from Portsmouth with a reputation for goals; signing him was quite a coup. The problem seemed to be that he was so ahead of his team mates that he was never in the right place to put the ball in the back of the net.  

Defining moment: A bicycle kick from point blank range against Torquay.

31. Matt Murphy

Very much a nineties man; his career just about dipped into the 2000s, but it was what he did before that really made his name.

30. Jefferson Louis

Before characters like Danny Hylton and Jamie Mackie, there was Jefferson Louis. Signed from Thame United after a spell in prison, Louis was all arms and legs. In 2003 he got on the end of a James Hunt throw-in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup against Swindon Town to score the winner. He was then filmed stark naked live on daytime TV celebrating the fact we’d drawn Arsenal in the next round. Not exactly a one man club, at the last count he’d played for 45.

Defining moment: His glancing header that beat Swindon in the FA Cup in 2003.

29. Andy Woodman

When Ian Atkins became manager in 2001 he rolled into town a battalion of proven players. Andy Woodman stood behind an impenetrable defensive unit and never looked flustered. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

Defining moment: Saving a key penalty in 2002 to dump Charlton out of the League Cup.

28. Simon Clist

Not all heroes wear capes. Simon Clist was integral to the 2010 promotion team as the balancing force in midfield. Dannie Bulman won the battle, passed it to Clist, who passed it to Adam Chapman or Adam Murray to create something. It was fantastically effective. Clist was integral to that machinery.

27. Mike Ford

Another player whose position is probably more down to what he did outside the decade than what he did in it. Mike Ford was never the nimblest of players and by 2000 he was on his last legs. But, in terms of what he gave to the club before that, he’ll never be bettered.

26. Tommy Mooney

Notoriously tight with his money, Firoz Kassam was prone to the odd panic buy – Paul Moody, Andy Scott, Lee Bradbury. Tommy Mooney came with baggage, a former Swindon striker, but at a time when we were so self-possessed, that didn’t matter too much. Mooney came with an excellent reputation. He didn’t let us down scoring 15 goals in the season he was with us. In reality he was just squeezing out a few more signing-on fees before age caught up with him. In a flash, he was gone. 

25. Matt Green

Matt Green would have been much higher up the list had his Oxford career been more straightforward. His first stint was in 2007 on loan from Cardiff, then he was all set to sign on a permanent deal, but took a diversion on the way to the ground and spent a year at Torquay. Eventually Chris Wilder signed him to make up part of a devastating three pronged attack in our Conference promotion year. 

Defining moment: His sensational volley to open the scoring at Wembley in 2010.

24. Adam Murray

Something of a forgotten man; Adam Murray joined in 2008 and skippered the promotion side for a good chunk of the season. Sadly injury meant he missed the last 4 months of the season meaning James Constable picked up the arm band and Adam Chapman pulled the strings in midfield. A creative talent that dug us out of the hole we were in at the time.

23. Jamie Cook

Jamie Cook had a curious Oxford career; he emerged in the 90s but played second fiddle to brighter homegrown stars. Left to pursue a very serviceable career. Returned in 2009 where he again played a bit part in our promotion campaign. Despite this, will always be fondly remembered at the club.

Defining moment: A 25-yard screamer against Luton Town in 2009.

22. Chris Hargreaves

A warrior who led his team into a hopeless battle to avoid relegation from the football team in 2006. Vowed to right a wrong in the Conference, but was last seen kicking a water bottle in frustration as we fell to Exeter in the play-off semi-final. Came back 3 years later mostly as a cheerleader to finally see us get back into the Football League in 2010.

21. Andy Crosby

Sometimes you just need to be held in the arms of a big strong man who will protect you. Andy Crosby was a colossus in Ian Atkins’ pragmatic team of 2001-2004. A metronomic ability to score penalties also meant that he threatened the goalscorers charts as well as held the back line together.

20. Bobby Ford

An enigmatic lost soul who seemed blighted by his talent. Returned to the club in 2002 having played in the top flight with Sheffield United to play in a team barely suited to his style.

19. Jack Midson

Gentleman Jack Midson first floated into view scoring an imperious lob over Billy Turley while playing for Histon in 2008. Eventually Chris Wilder brought him to the club, where he provided all the craft we needed to see us promoted in 2010. Quickly ejected by Wilder, Midson returned from a loan spell to score a hat-trick against Torquay in the Miracle of Plainmoor. And that was pretty much him done.

Defining moment: His winner versus Yeovil Town in the FA Cup in 2009

18. Les Robinson

Les Robinson wasn’t a millennium guy; he only played 26 games in the 21st Century, just 6% of all the games he played for us. But it’s a lasting testament to his legacy that he was still better than over 200 players who did play during the decade.

17. Dannie Bulman

Dannie Bulman was key to Chris Wilder’s rescue effort in 2009 being the tenacious ball winner that galvanised our promotion effort. He quickly fell out of favour and we spent much of our first season back in the Football League trying to replace him. Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake?

16. Paul Powell

Paul Powell was long past his best as the century turned. At one point he’d been our finest asset and could have played for England. But, a broken leg and erratic temperament meant he never quite fulfilled his potential. He did have the dubious honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal at the Kassam Stadium.

15. Phil Gilchrist

Another one of the 90s guys. Phil Gilchrist was re-recruited in 2006 with the help of a Coca Cola competition winner, who funded his transfer. By this point Gilchrist was mostly being held together with sticky tape and rubber bands. For a season, it worked fine, but he fell apart just as we did. 

14. Adam Chapman

Adam Chapman never did things the easy way; he initially joined from Sheffield United on loan but really came into his own taking over from Adam Murray in the final weeks of the 2009/10 season. A week before the play-off final, it was announced that he was to be sentenced for killing a man while driving and texting at the same time. Chapman put in a man-of-the-match performance before being sentenced to a year in a young offenders institute. He was never quite the same again, but did hit the headlines again when he burnt his nipple on baby milk in 2012.

Defining moment: His party-pooping free-kick at Burton which ruined their promotion celebrations in 2009.

13. Damian Batt

A quicksilver full-back with an unstoppable engine, Damian Batt seemed to be capable of defending in his own six yard box one second, then driving in a cross at the other. A key player of the promotion season, he left in 2013 and pursue a somewhat curious life.

12. Jamie Brooks

Jamie Brooks could have been the greatest of them all. A prodigious talent who sparkled during a grim first season at the Kassam. Arsenal took an interest, and apparently on the verge of a move to the Premier League giants was struck down with Guillain–Barré syndrome which nearly cost him his life. Struggled on until 2006 before being released.

Defining moment: Scoring the first competitive goal at the Kassam Stadium.

11. Paul Moody

Paul Moody had provided the goals that brought us promotion in 1996, he left in 1997 but returned in 2001 as a crowd pleasing folly from Firoz Kassam. Actually made a decent fist of it, coming out as leading scorer but seemed to hate every minute. Left after a season.

Defining moment: Hanging off the crossbar at Wycombe in 1996.

10. Chris Hackett

A product of the youth system and a hare down the flank. Threatened to follow the lineage of Brock, Thomas, Beauchamp, Allen and Powell. When you needed a spark, Hackett was your man.

Defining moment: Probably being sold to Hearts just when we needed him most.

9. Billy Turley

A self-consciously self-styled ‘character’ whose lunatic antics in goal between 2005 and 2010 kept our spirits up during bleak times. At times magnificent, but equally susceptible to the odd calamity as illustrated by his gaff that led to Leyton Orient’s first goal in the relegation decider in 2006 and a missed penalty against Exeter in 2007. I mean, they were biggies; but that was Turley.

Defining moment: Maybe his last meaningful contribution to the club, an unbelievable save in 2010 against Wrexham.

8. Mark Creighton

The Beast. Chris Wilder had a strategy for us in 2009/10 – we were finally going to use our status as a large fish in a small pond to our advantage. Creighton dominated in every thing he did. A rock and a leader, he was surprisingly moved on by Wilder in 2010. 

Defining moment: Last minute goal against York City in 2009

7. Yemi Odubade

Yemi Odubade appeared if by magic during an FA Cup game at Eastbourne Borough. He won a penalty which snatched them a draw and ran us ragged in the replay despite losing. Brian Talbot wasted no time in snapping him up. Possessed blistering pace and was a rare joy in a dark time, his 45-yard goal against Dagenham and Redbridge in 2007 a moment of pure ecstasy.

Defining moment: That goal against Dagenham and Redbridge.

6. Ryan Clarke

There’s a good argument that Ryan Clarke was pound-for-pound the best Oxford player of the decade. Others had goals, Clarke probably saved more than everyone else put together.

Defining moment: Too many to mention, but let’s go with saving 8 out of 14 penalties around 2010 and 2011.

5. Joey Beauchamp 

Joey Beauchamp was not a man of the 2000s, by that point his career was in decline. But it is his enduring legend which has placed him at number 5. Disgracefully dumped by the club without the sniff of a testimonial in 2002; the streets remember Joey.

Defining moment: Joey’s 35-yard screamer against Blackpool in 1996.

4. Steve Basham

Blighted by injuries, Steve Basham was too good for a club falling apart. A striker who played with his head, which was somewhat out of keeping during the brutish Ian Atkins years. Always scored goals, but at the same time looked a little out of place.

Defining moment: Scoring the winner to knock Millwall out of the League Cup in 2003.

3. Dean Whitehead

The nineties produced a raft of great homegrown talents, it was a machine that helped keep the club afloat. It was dismantled in the 2000s, which makes Dean Whitehead’s talent all the more remarkable. Not only did he possess a skill with the ball, he developed a work ethic and discipline which saw him play at the very top of the game.

Defining moment: A breathtaking farewell free-kick against Rochdale in 2004

2. Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter arrived in 2009 and only played 13 games in the decade, but while he wasn’t the most regular of starters, nearly everything good that happened involved him. Scoring the iconic third goal at Wembley in 2010, destroying Portsmouth 4-1 in 2013 and scoring the winner against Swindon in the JPT in 2012, Potter’s career was defined by magical moments.

Defining moment: The third goal at Wembley.

1. James Constable

Was James Constable a player for the 2000s? Or the 2010s? Or was he just the greatest Oxford United player of the century (so far). Let’s go with that. A goal machine, a loyal stalwart, a thoroughly nice bloke, there’s nothing Beano couldn’t do.

Defining moment: Where do you start?

Midweek fixture: 2010 play-off winners – where are they now?

Ryan Clarke

A goalkeeper who saved his team more times than any other player is ironically most well known for dropping the ball into his own net with the score at 2-0. Clarke went on to play more than 200 times for the club before moving to Northampton Town. His career stalled a bit and he failed to make a single appearance, later admitting to depression. After a brief spell at Wimbledon he moved to Eastleigh and Torquay and is currently at Bath City.

Damian Batt

A full-back with pace and a prodigious engine, Batt played on for three more years before briefly claiming a move to Vancouver Whitecaps. It came to nothing and he announced his retirement allowing him to focus on his business Alexander Du’Bel. He made a brief return at Eastleigh and then Dagenham and Redbridge before fully retiring in 2015. In 2017, the Telegraph raised a series of concerns about his dubious claims to be raising money for charity.

Mark Creighton

The Beast who kick started the season with a last minute winner over York was a wall of a central defender. Almost as soon as the following season started Creighton was loaned out to Wrexham, before moving to Kidderminster Harriers permanently. After two years he retired due to injury and set up his tattoo business Raw Ink Studios.

Jake Wright

Signed midway through the season to replace Luke Foster, Wright evolved into a formidable centre-back and leader. Wright steered the club through the League 2 years and into the Appleton era where he captained the team to promotion in 2016. He signed for Sheffield United, rejoining Chris Wilder during that summer and promptly won promotion with them to The Championship.

Anthony Tonkin

A sanguine full-back signed in the January before the play-off final. Tonkin drifted out of the team after promotion, but had a moment in the sun against Swindon Town. In 2012 he moved to Aldershot Town before moving onto Frome Town. A business graduate, he had a sideline as a property developer during his playing days. He became a Financial Advisor on retiring before becoming a Quantity Surveyor.

Dannie Bulman

Bulman was signed at the start of the promotion season after leaving Crawley Town. He had already played over 350 games for Wycombe, Stevenage and Crawley. Bulman was quickly moved on back to Crawley following promotion; Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake. After that he moves to Wimbledon where he was the Football League’s oldest player in 2018. Currently back at Crawley.

Adam Chapman

Signed from Sheffield United, Chapman took over from the injured Adam Murray as the creative force in midfield. Immediately before the final it was announced that Chapman was set to stand trial for killing someone in car accident. He was convicted and spent a year away in a young offenders institute. He returned and played spasmodically before moving on, at one playing a game against Wycombe with a burnt his nipple from baby milk. He now plays for Sheffield FC.

Simon Clist

An invaluable water-carrier in the middle of midfield. Clist became our unlikely first goalscorer on our return to the Football League. In 2012 Clist moved to Hereford on loan and then permanently. The trail runs cold at this point, although he reappeared as guest of honour at the club in 2018.

Jack Midson

A player with a deft touch and great poise; Midson was another player who undeservedly was moved out of the club by Chris Wilder following promotion. He eventually settled with Wimbledon, taking them back to the Football League and having the honour of scoring against the Dons’ nemesis MK Dons. Following a number of moves he became assistant manager at Concord Rangers. He’s also a director of M&M Sports Coaching with his team mate Sammy Moore. Recently appointed manager at Hemel Hempstead Town.

James Constable

A bona fide club legend. Constable scored over 100 goals and just one short of the club’s goalscoring record left for Eastleigh. After four years he moved to Poole Town one loan, recently announcing his semi-retirement and became a patron of Oxford United in the Community. Left Eastleigh permanently in May 2019.

Matt Green

A peculiar career which started at Cardiff, he had a brief loan spell at Oxford before controversially moving to Torquay. He came back in 2010 and became part of a formidable three pronged attack. Another player who was moved on a little too quickly, in 2013 he scored a bucketload at Mansfield earning him a move to The Championship and Birmingham City. Injury stalled his career and he moved back to Mansfield before moving to Lincoln and Salford.

Subs:

Billy Turley

A character and a dying breed, Turley lost his place to Ryan Clarke at the beginning of the season. He was released immediately after the final before spending some time at Brackley Town.

Kevin Sandwith

An early Chris Wilder Signing, he lost his place to Anthony Tonkin at Christmas. Released after the final he went to Mansfield before drifting around the non-league and disappearing.

Alfie Potter

Potter came on to score the iconic third goal at Wembley. He played on until 2015 enjoying moments in the sun such as a winner over Swindon and a leading part in a 4-1 win over Portsmouth. Joined Chris Wilder at Northampton in 2015 before moving to Mansfield and Billericay Town.

Rhys Day

Day came on with three minutes to go and won the header which set up the breakaway for the third goal. Another player who played briefly for Mansfield before popping up at Hyde. Currently an Operations Manager in Manchester.

Sam Deering

A diminutive forward who set up Alfie Potter for the third goal. Deering drifted in and out of the team until 2011 before moving to Barnet. Enjoyed an FA Cup giant killing with Whitehawk before ending up at Billericay.

Manager: Chris Wilder

Battled on with the club until everyone forgot what a remarkable job he had done. Left acrimoniously in 2014 for Northampton who were, at the time, bottom of League 2. He saved them by beating us on the last game of the season. He followed it up by winning the title while we came second. Shortly after, he moved to Sheffield United where he won promotion to the Championship and then, in 2019, The Premier League.

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.

Is Ryan Clarke Oxford’s greatest goalkeeper?

The funny thing about goalkeepers is they usually need to leave in order to make an objective assessment as to their quality. Unlike strikers, whose legend (or not) is forged in the here and now, most goalkeepers are treated well by fans and it is only some years later that a more considered view can emerge.
For example, in the 10 years at the Kassam, it is perhaps only Ian McCaldon who was butchered by the Oxford faithful whilst actually guarding his goal. Despite being in the doldrums, others like Woodman, Tardif, Turley and now Clarke (plus the odds and sods of loanees and juniors) have all been treated well. Perhaps it’s because goalkeeping looks genuinely difficult. Most of us can kick a ball reasonably straight and true – we can at least make some vague connection with what outfield players do, but how many of us naturally throw ourselves full length to the floor? Goalkeeping contains counter-intuitive actions, maybe we admire that.
So, it’s not really possible to make a genuine assessment as to where Ryan Clarke sits in the ‘legendary goalkeeper’ firmament. But lets try. Let’s look at the three aforementioned Kassam regulars. Andy Woodman was part of a sturdy defensive unit that included Matt Robinson, Scott McNiven, Andy Crosby and Matt Bound. They didn’t concede many goals, but, with hindsight, the ball seemed to rarely get to Woodman, so whilst being a solid component of a larger unit, he was a largely unremarkable keeper.
Time And Relative Dimensions In Football – Chris Tardif was equally unremarkable, but for different reasons. Unlike Woodman, he was exposed by a more porous defence and so was able to show off his shot stopping skills, but he wasn’t a significant and reassuring presence and so loses out on that count. We admired him for his exploits, but looking back, he was probably just benefitting from being used as target practice.
Billy Turley was my Kassam All-star XI goalkeeper. There were times when he was magnificent, outshining those around him time and time again. He was also a narcissist and his charming eccentricities did have a habit of getting the better of him. This happened most notably against Orient in the last game of the 2005/6 season and Exeter in the play-off semi-final 2nd leg in 2007 – the two most important games he played in. As I say, it is relatively easy to paint yourself as a great keeper when you have plenty of shots being fired at you, it’s saving them at critical times that counts.
Turley will forever be labelled an Oxford legend, and rightly so, but as time progresses, he will probably be known more in the Johnny ‘lager’ Durnin than Johnny ‘goals’ Aldridge sense. A character.
My frame of reference for The Manor goalkeepers stretches back as far as Roy Burton’s bumcrack. Burton was deeply loved and still is. Not surprising in that he kept goal for 11 years, from the Nothing Years right to the edge of the Glory Years. The memory of Burton, however was as much about his inability to hold up his shorts as it was his goalkeeping skills.
It is funny that we are uncompromising towards managers and other players, we consider football a ‘results business’ and if results don’t come we’re happy to diagnose instant redundancy. When it comes to goalkeepers, it seems we’re drawn more to their personalities; and specifically the ones that make us laugh.
The gap between Burton’s last game and Steve Hardwick’s first was a matter of weeks. I do remember the absolute shock of Paul Butcher taking up position in the green shirt (with blue shorts and yellow socks – just how it should be – none of this special outfit nonsense of today). 
During the boom years, Hardwick never seemed to concede a goal and my addled brain remembers him leaping higher than the cross bar to tip the ball over on a regular basis. I thought he was brilliant, but I thought everyone in that team was brilliant.
Given Hardwick’s contribution to the Glory Days, it was surprising that Alan Judge seemed to take over once we reached the 1st Division. It’s difficult to know how good Judge was, though. After 2 years of attacking devil-may-care, when everything seemed to go right for us, we were suddenly placed on the back foot as England’s top strikers attacked a defence forged in the lower leagues. The Guardian recently described that defensive unit – as legendary as it is to us today – ‘a disgrace’. Conceding goals and scratching out points was a sobering experience and whilst Judge will always be our Milk Cup Final keeper, he’ll also be one which was in a team which was constantly in a battle to stay up.
After Judge came a more fuzzy period. Peter Hucker was around for much longer than I remember, but it was difficult to see games in that time and perhaps for me his 1982 FA Cup final appearance for QPR eclipses his time in an Oxford jersey. Ken Veysey’s stay was brief but well regarded, unlike Paul Kee.
Then suddenly, one evening in 1993 Phil Whitehead appeared between the sticks. Whitehead grew to become a contender for the greatest keeper we ever had. He saw us through promotion in 1996 and down the other side. His sale to West Brom propped us up for a period. 
Like Clarke, he was playing behind a solid back-four but there were times when he pulled off the remarkable. I still remember this save against Port Vale in the League Cup as being utterly miraculous. The ball seemed to be sitting on the goalline with the striker ready to prod home, but from nowhere Whitehead appeared to parry it to safety. The thing I remember is that we were 2-0 up and cruising and yet Whitehead’s desire to get the block in was undiminished. That moment sticks in my brain to this day.
Post-Whitehead, there was another period of fuzzyness; Pal Lundin, Andre Arendse, Richard Knight, all had their moments in the sun with various levels of success. Knight, in particular, was a brilliant shot stopper, but we broke his spirit in the final season at the Manor as he conceded over 100 goals and still ended up player of the season.
So, is Ryan Clarke Oxford’s greatest ever goalkeeper? Given the nature of the opposition each keeper faced and the defences they stood behind, it’s a marginal call. For me, it’s between him and Phil Whitehead. However, on Tuesday, as Izzy Macleod stood over the ball ready to take the penalty, I had an unreasonable amount of confidence that he would save it. How often do you get to think that about a goalkeeper? He’s perhaps the only player from the Conference years who has shown no signs of needing to adjust in the Football League. 
On the other hand, Whitehead took us up in 1996 and was playing at a higher level. Clarke, of course, has been part of one promotion team – and you could argue that the Conference is one of the hardest leagues to get out of. If he manages a second promotion come May, perhaps then we can make the claim that he’s the number 1 number 1.

Kassam All Star XI – Goalkeeper

By the time he got to the Kassam Stadium, Richard Knight had the haunted look of a war veteran. Decorated as the Player of the Year in our last season at The Manor, he hid deep and lasting wounds of the 100+ goals he’d shipped in the process.

In The Grand Fantasy, he was set to dominate the ‘keepers slot in a resurgent Oxford. But the fantasy remained just that; the club didn’t resurge nor did Knight dominate. He lasted one game before being over taken by Ian McCaldon; a man whose most notable contribution was to blast the ball off the arse of an oncoming striker and into the net in a desperate 2-2 draw against York.

Ian Atkins’ arrival brought in the first contender for the Kassam’s All Star XI. Andy Woodman, was a knock-about, happy go lucky lower league journeyman but a man Atkins could trust. The defensive unit at that time was greater than the sum of its parts, but Woodman was a rock of experience on which Atkins could build his briefly successful squad.

Atkins’ acrimonious split from the club saw the arrival of Graham Rix. Rix’s key personality trait was to make utterly bizarre decisions from sleeping with an underage girl to making Paul Wanless play tippy-tappy football – which is perhaps more morally reprehensible. One of his first bizarre decisions was to replace Woodman with first Simon Cox, and then lovely-bloke Time and Relative Dimensions in Football: Chris Tardif.

Rix quickly left, but Tardif remained, he was also Ramon Diaz’s first choice ‘keeper. He was only overtaken when Brian Talbot, a man who spoke as though his tongue was sewn to the roof of his mouth, arrived. Amidst promises of double promotions and a trip to Wembley, Talbot did make one good decision, he brought in Billy Turley.

Turley came with a reputation; banned in 2004 for using cocaine, in typically understated football fan parlance he was branded a ‘crackhead’. All this was part of the Turley brand. Eccentric and brilliant at the same time, no more so than in the Orient and Exeter games; two of the most significant games ever played at the Kassam.

Turley was challenged by Tardif in the way a wasp challenges you for your ice cream. When Jim Smith arrived in late 2005/6, he brought in Andrea Guatelli, but Turley fought back. Nothing that successive managers could throw at him could bring him down. It was only when Chris Wilder brought in Ryan Clarke was Turley’s crown finally taken.

Clarke is a thoroughly modern ‘keeper, athletic and tall as a skyscraper. He’s been as important as James Constable in our resurgence over the last two years. Ironically his biggest mistake was on our biggest day at Wembley, but he also pulled off at least one world class save that day and countless others to get us there in the first place. It’s not easy staying in a Wilder squad, let alone the first team, so being ever-present during 2010/11 is testament to Clarke’s contribution.

But, in the Kassam All-Star XI, the keeper’s spot has to go to Turley. Even in the darkest years he performed, he was the only one who stuck around and actually ‘righted the wrong’. And, there were few more poetic and perfect moments at the Kassam Stadium than his last meaningful contribution to the club.

End of season review – adios amigos

After such giddy success, it seems unfair to start looking at who should be staying and who should be going. Can’t we just stay in this place for a little bit longer?

Well, no, evidently. Few will argue with most of the releases announced this week. Franny Green is a good solid Conference pro, the kind of man you can rely on to do a shift in for you. Of course, we’re not a Conference club anymore and with the market opening up for us, his qualities won’t transfer up to the next level.

Chris Hargreaves’ moments during his second spell were fleeting, the combativeness and endeavour were there, but a career of lower league football has clearly taken its toll on his body.

Billy Turley, 2008 Oxblogger player of the year, is clearly approaching ‘legend’ status. Whilst we floundered hopelessly, the one positive constant was Turley. Sentimentality had me hoping that he’d be accommodated in some way (goalkeeping player/coach?). On the other hand, its good to preserve his legend status. How perfect was it that he signed off from the Kassam with an astonishing save against Mansfield, and some even more astonishing YouTube videos?

Kevin Sandwich might count himself a little unfortunate. By no means a stick-on first teamer and unfortunately chastised by the crowd for his shortcomings, he rarely let anyone down when needed. Squads need Kevin Sandwiches, although, it seems, not this one.

John Grant didn’t really stand a chance; his inclusion at the expense of Jack Midson immediately put him at a disadvantage. Not scoring didn’t help either.

Lewis Chalmers, might have had a chance with Adam Murray injured and Adam Chapman’s troubles. But with Chapman finding some startling form as the season closed, Chalmers’ chances disappeared.

Jamie Cook too had a chance during the period that will forever be known as ‘The Sticky Patch’. When Sam Deering couldn’t reach the penalty box with his corners; Cook represented an option for dead-ball delivery. He probably has the best first touch in the whole squad and some of his feints and passing were sublime. Sadly, in a team that thrives on its dynamic work rate, Cook’s more ‘continental’ talents were out a bit out of place. He did, at least, leave an iconic moment in the season – when he became the True Carrier of Hope.