Book review – Deano – from Gipsyville to the Premiership – Dean Windass

My lasting memory of Dean Windass, something he recalls in his autobiography ‘Deano’, is him standing in front of the London Road End having just nodded home a last minute consolation goal at the end of a 1-7 thrashing by Birmingham City. He’s standing with mock braggadocio – mindful of the utter spanking we’d just received – with his hands cupped around his ears in that ‘who are you?’ pose which has become popular.

This memory is supported by the fact it’s this that forms the basis of my only (exaggerated) Dean Windass humorous anecdote, which loses quite a lot when written down. In short, this involves me saying that Windass stuns the frenzied crowd into silence the moment he makes emphasis of his prodigious lugs.

I told you that it loses a lot, perhaps everything, in translation, or perhaps it was no good in the first place. That. Probably that.

Windass is a member of a club who attained something akin to legend status within Oxford United without actually making a material contribution to the club’s progress; for this read: Tommy Mooney and, perhaps over time, Michael Duberry.

None of this trio would consider their time at Oxford as anything other than an overnight stop on their way to somewhere else. They played the game, on and, and more importantly, off the field. They had media connections, a decent line in ‘bantz’.  There’s even an element of us feeling privileged that they chose us. A privilege slightly dampened by the fact that they also chose 10 other clubs in their career with the same impact. Windass didn’t even last a season us, the deal that brought him to the club being as absurd as the man himself.

Dean Windass was the ultimate folly of an Oxford United in deep crisis. It seems that with the club on its knees, prospective investors in the club seemed willing to underwrite the purchase of Windass from Aberdeen on a £400,000 deal, a club record, which involves almost no exchange of cash at all. When Aberdeen came asking for their first payment, and the promised investment failed to materialise, it became clear the club couldn’t afford the player. He was, within a year of arriving, shipped off to the nouveau riche Bradford City in a near million pound deal. Any profit that was gained was ploughed into the club’s spiralling debts. This sent Windass on a path back to Hull (via a couple of other clubs) where he gained prominence by larruping in the goal that took The Tigers to their first season in the Premier League in 2008. After this Windass was gently pensioned off to fulfil a career as a fractionally less bonkers, but similarly fragile, Paul Gascoigne.

For me, there was no real urgency in reading Windass’ autobiography, partly because of the unsavoury connotations of the subtitle. But in fact, Gipsyville is not a generic, and racist, term for a bad place, it was the actual name of his early junior team. In addition, his time at Oxford was probably worthy of about 3 pages of text. Not only that, the whole thing suggested that it would aim to contribute to the ever growing game of one-upmanship amongst minor football celebrities into who had the maddest, craziest, most tiresome drinking stories.

The early part of the book is like a skimming stone dancing across a mill pond, it bounces along at some pace, but never gets into any real depth. It dances through his first spell at Hull, and his time at Aberdeen and Oxford at breakneck speed only slowing down once he reaches the Premier League with Bradford. There’s a momentary mention with an apparently long term drink and violence problem.

He is also unbelievably candid with Windass admitting that he had no pubic hair until he was 17, he pee’ed on Ian Ormanroyd’s leg in the shower during his time at Hull and that Stan Collymore shaved his testicles in the communal showers.

His time at Oxford is treated at pace, which is no real shock. However, as Windass has absolutely no edit function, it is surprisingly revealing of that period at the club. His initiation involved being threatened with a shotgun by someone called ‘Terry’, apparently a Malcolm ‘Mally’ Shotton authorised ritual which was only stopped when Paul Tait broke Terry’s arm with a golf bag in a pique of terror.

Whether that’s true or not is another question, he also claims to have lived in ‘Bicester village’ – which means he either lived in a village near Bicester, or that Hull is such a metropolis Bicester is village-like by comparison or he actually lived in a retail park amongst the Helly Hansen end of line bargains.

Windass’ true moment in the sun with Oxford was the cup game against Chelsea in which he scored and we conceded in the last minute to a dubious penalty. The book reveals that Windass is the only person in history, even with the benefit of video replays, who still thinks that Kevin Francis fouled Gianluca Vialli. A fact made more remarkable when reviewing the YouTube clip of the incident;   Windass was about 3 feet away at the time.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book is the extent of the ‘Oxford mafia’ that spread across English football during the 90s. Sir Alex Ferguson is the Don, of course, and Jim Smith is one of his acolytes. Smith nurtured Shotton, and Steve McLaren, who both bought Windass to their clubs, and Brian Horton who initially worked under Maurice Evans. Windass is one of many who bounced around that network of managers and coaches including; John Dreyer, Chris Hargreaves and Billy Whitehirst, who is barely mentioned in the first 240-odd pages but contributes a whole chapter at the end of the book.

It’s safe to say that Oxford’s influence over football is no longer as potent as it once was; but it is curious to see the echo of our mid-eighties success resonating into the a decade along the line.

Book review: The Secret Footballer – Anon (but perhaps Dave Kitson)

When The Secret Footballer first appeared in The Guardian I thought it was a simple, but brilliant concept. In a world saturated with football, what better way to offer something new than by cutting through the thick sludge of its PR machine under a cloak of guaranteed anonymity?

After a few weeks, however, I became suspicious; the TSF appeared to be a Guardian journalist’s wet dream; he was a footballer, he was liberal with an eclectic taste in music, art and literature and whatever was in the football news, he had some experience of it. It was too good to be true. I began to suspect that the TSF was actually a Guardian journalist retelling stories he’d heard from lots of players but had never been able to publish. Not so much tales of a secret footballer as secret footballers’ tales.

I gave up on the blog and I unfollowed him on Twitter and didn’t think much of it until we equalised against Portsmouth on the opening day of the season and Brinyhoof told me that The Secret Footballer was widely believed to be Dave Kitson. This, of course, piqued my interest.

There’s a website which scours TSF blog posts for clues to his identity and then crowdsources suggestions as to who he is. That site is certain that Kitson is their man. And then when you hear Kitson being interviewed you can quite believe that he is, after all, a Guardian journalists wet dream.

I sometimes struggle to differentiate between one English Premier League footballer and another. Kitson was one I did know although even now I get him confused with Steve Sidwell. While reading the book, I still found myself checking Wikipedia to remind myself whether Kitson had played at Chelsea or not.

The book; The Secret Footballer may well be written by Dave Kitson. The marketing blurb threatens an ‘explosive’ expose of the modern game. But although the anonymity gives him licence to blow the bloody doors off, the opaque references and context – ‘our star striker once went to a hooker…’ – does begin to come over as the stories of someone in the pub who’d heard some stories from a mate whose dad is friends with the dad of a bloke who lives round the corner from a professional footballer.

The book is broken into themes; tactics, managers, money, the media, the big time, and so on. The more ‘explosive’ stories tend to be so beyond the comprehension of the average man that without names and places they might as well be the work of a playground outsider seeking acceptance through more and more preposterous stories. He might as well be telling us that his dad is ex-SAS and a speedway world champion. There are stories of debauched parties in Vegas and playing a game where players fly around the world on their days off just for kicks. These could be stories made up by someone guessing at what the stupidly rich get up to.

But, he talks in unnecessary detail about things which are more important to him than the reader. He goes on at length about the media’s obsession with putting a man on the post for a corner, when the most effective position is on the edge of the six yard box. There are also subjects that are quickly dismissed – drugs, for example. If this were a work of semi-fiction you would think this offers a rich vein for a yarn or two.

While his blog suggests a bit of an outsider that is atypical of the stereotype, the book does a pretty good job to reveal him, in the main, as an insufferable bellend. There’s a story of a day at Cheltenham races where the players win big before being scoffed at by ‘a group in tweed’ for their raucous behaviour. The star striker tears up a pile of cash from their winnings that had accumulated in the middle of their table. That, claims TSF, showed them for what they (the tweeds) were. I’d argue that it only reinforced what a bunch of detached tosspots professional footballers can be.

The middle is padded with an interminable Q&A with an anonymous agent and some questions from Twitter. He spends page after page defending his practices. While attempting to paint a picture of a skilled professional, it just serves to illustrate what’s wrong with the game. Incidentally at one point the TSF blames football’s excesses on the fans because we buy into the whole circus. With all blame absolved, the agent dismisses his own questionable practice as ‘just business’.

‘Just business’ is the safe word word of a shyster; a delegation of immorality that’s used by pimps, drug dealers and Herbalife resellers to excuse their actions. Those who claim that what they’re doing is ‘just business’ are effectively saying that they are no longer able to perform simple functions of an individual. Unable to ethically differentiate between what they can do, and what they should do.

The life as a Premier League player that TSF paints reminds me of friends who work for big corporations. They are cocooned, trapped even, in good salaries and pension schemes, but they are worked into the ground, constantly under pressure to perform or face imminent redundancy. They often work in a narrow spectrum where their influence as an individual is limited. They adopt a behaviour and language which can become incomprehensible to those on the outside. I have two friends, who don’t know each other, whose wives worked for the same massive corporation. Their marriages collapsed after their wives had affairs with work colleagues. Apparently in that company its not uncommon; large corporations become like small islands with their own norms and ways of working; detached from the outside world. I guess that’s what Premier League football is; the players are people at the top of their profession working for its industry’s largest corporations, we are sales data.

Naturally, the book reveals very little about Kitson, if it is him. However, the closing chapter, which speculates on the ending of his career, reveals some clues as to why he may now be at a team like Oxford. A combination of excessive living, bad investments and poor financial management has left the player materially wealthy but cash poor. This may explain his stubbornness towards Portsmouth who continue to pay him £10k a month. He needs the cash to sustain a lifestyle he and his family have become used to.

At the end of the book he tells a story of him divesting himself of the accumulated trappings of his life at the top in order to help fund a tax bill; the football shirts he’s collected from star players, the designer furniture in his house. He has become paranoid, a depressive, and he is struggling with the machine-like professional he’s expected to be and the thoughtful human being he actually is. His career at the top is slipping away anyway, but he seems fed up with the business of the game. He says early on that there’s a common mantra in the profession that ‘football used to be my favourite game’. As attractive as it appears from the outside, for his own sanity, he needs to get out of the big time.

Perhaps this is one of the links between Kitson and Michael Duberry. Both have experienced the big time; but they’ve also experienced the dark side of it. But maybe they still enjoy playing football. If at the end of your Premier League career you can retain some enthusiasm and you can deal with the psychological impact of playing at a lower level, then actually playing in League 2 probably seems like fun.

Book review – Woody and Nord

Anyone who has read any football biography will be familiar with its typical format. The opening chapter will be a factual account of the subject’s career-defining moment (and probably the reason you bought the book in the first place). Once this is complete, the story will wind back to the cobbled streets of their childhood to allow the subsequent chapters to tell the story as to how they got to that pinnacle.

Everyone wins with this format. The authors don’t have to waste time and energy finding a groundbreaking way of telling the story. The publisher doesn’t have to risk its investment in offering something new to the world. And the reader gets a familiar, easy to follow story that means they get some good solid value for money.

It’s rare, then, that someone comes up with a genuinely good idea for a football biography, and you wouldn’t really expect Gareth Southgate to be the one that did. Southgate, however, had two things in his locker; he is one of the more intelligent and self-aware footballers of his generation; he knew that in reality apart from rolling a decisive penalty into the hands of Andreas Kope in the Euro 96 semi-final, he didn’t really have a story to tell. The second thing he had was a career long friendship with Andy Woodman; lower league journeyman goalkeeper and, at the time of publication, Oxford United number 1.

The idea, then, was to illustrate the extremes of professional football; Southgate the mega rich international footballer (and, even then, some would say, underachiever) and Andy Woodman, one of the thousands of footballers who wallow around the toilets of the footballing world before being spat out without making a dent in the games’ history books.

They drafted in David Walsh, the Times journalist who has become famous for being almost a lone voice in the pursuit of Lance Armstrong. Another isolated voice in that particular fight was Paul Kimmage, another open critic of Armstrong and the author of the original drug bust cycling book; Rough Ride. There’s a tradition in cycling writing that tends to explore the human spirit. It’s not a surprise really, cycling doesn’t have the same intense theatre that football has, and from the outside much of it looks the same. What’s really interesting about cycling is what goes on inside people’s heads when taking their bodies to extremes.

Kimmage also wrote Full Time; Tony Cascarino’s biography, which similarly broke the mould in revealing the fear sitting at the heart of most footballers. Walsh manages the same thing with Southgate and Woodman. Southgate’s fear was about not fulfilling what he felt was an obligation to maximise his talents; he laments never having played for a top club and that his England legacy is  his missed penalty. In the end, the thing that drove him to become as good as he was is also the thing that nagged away and left him jaded; the relentless pursuit of unobtainable perfection.

Woodman’s fear is perhaps more familiar to most, a fear that is desperately underplayed in football due to the relentless portrayal of the game as a UNMITIGATED! SERIES! OF! THRILLS!. Woodman’s need was to survive; to remain in employment and support his family, in an atmosphere where manager’s are always looking for something better and fellow players are happy to step all over you in a similarly desperate attempt to survive.

The book says almost nothing specifically about Woodman’s time at Oxford United. The club wash his kit (unusual) and cut costs by taking away orange squash from the players’ post-training drinks. That’s not really a surprise, he was a player at the time of publication and he was hardly going to upset that particular applecart, particularly at that point in his career. Southgate makes virtually no reference to his club career highlights of playing in an FA Cup final or winning the League Cup in 1996 because this isn’t the story you already know. However, the point of the book is to explore the more abstract concepts within the human psyche, something prevalent in Walsh and Kimmage’s cycling writing, a refreshingly different approach to football writing.

The book says a lot about Oxford in the abstract. It has cameos from a number of familiar names; Joey Beauchamp is the player who Woodman and Southgate played against in the youth team at Crystal Palace. He was the player with more talent than Southgate, but without the mental strength to be successful. Billy Turley was a goalkeeper chasing Woodman’s slot at Northampton. Andy Scott was Woodman’s team mate at Brentford. Then, of course, there’s Ian Atkins, who pretty much sustained Woodman’s career.

Around Atkins’ time, fans were highly critical of the cabal of ex-Northampton players that were in the squad. They were his favourites and this is what was holding the team back. But reading the book you realise that, yes, lower league managers have their favourites, but it’s because they too are in constant survival mode and need people around them they can trust. Woodman wasn’t a spectacular goalkeeper, but he had the character to take on board a plan and execute it. We would later become blighted by managers who tried to play their way out of Oxford’s problems with the likes of Courtney Pitt and a phalanx of flighty Argentineans which dragged us further into the mire.

Woody and Nord should make you think differently about footballers, and particularly those you and I watch on a weekly basis. This, of course, makes it a very good book indeed. They are stuck between the celebrity of their profession, and the everyday mundanity of worrying about their future. Our reaction to players is predicated on the former; that they are well privileged and well paid and they should perform or be fired. Sometimes it’s worth thinking through the latter.

Book review: Rags to Riches – the rise and rise of Oxford United

The origins of Rags to Riches – the rise and rise of Oxford United is uncertain, the copy I bought from Amazon is a hard back with a letter from Robert Maxwell at the start that implying it was part of an annual series plotting the success of his businesses. The letter also suggests it was a gift to the employees of his publishing empire. Despite this, it looks opportunistic, clearly published sometime between promotion in May ’85 and the start of the following season.

We had a copy when I was younger but my dad didn’t work for Maxwell, so it was obviously available for sale from somewhere. And, I’m sure ours was a paperback. Perhaps it was reprinted for wider distribution as a result of our promotion in 1985.

The book has the hallmarks of a piece of hurriedly produced vanity publishing; it is A4 in format; which at the time was the cheapest print format available and it is awash with photos and comparatively little writing. The structure jumps around from the story of our ‘rise and rise’, to a ‘tale of three strikers’ (Cassells, Biggins and Aldridge) to a piece on Malcolm Shotton’s wife; Treda. Given that there are three pictures of Treda with their newborn son, Matthew, you suspect that this ‘chapter’ is actually just a rehash of a news story the paper ran about the baby’s birth.

The book tracks a period which is both odd and, at the same time, wholly understandable. The opening brushes over the first 70 years of the club in a couple of paragraphs before jumping straight to 1982 – Maxwell’s Year 0. This paints Maxwell in the hero role, a mythical saviour in the mould of Kim Il Sung of North Korea, painting the club as though it barely existed before his arrival. The story ends in 1985, just before our first season in the football league; the team photo on the back has the team in the 1984/85 blue pinstripe kit, with Smith still at the helm. Most of the Milk Cup winning team are in the picture, of course, famously only Ray Houghton was brought in by Maurice Evans. But, it feels like the story is left hanging just before it reaches its climax. This is also some of its charm, there was no expectation that we’d end up at Wembley within a year. Looking in the eyes of the players in the photo of the back, you think ‘you don’t know what you’re about to achieve’.

The narrow 3 year focus, allows a more detailed telling of the story than is possible in a more comprehensive club history. Better still are the photos, which aren’t necessarily the greatest quality, but they come from long forgotten bread and butter games of the time – the cover is taken in a game against Notts County at Meadow Lane which we lost. Had the book been published a year later, the cover would have inevitably been of the team at Wembley. Each photo sparks a long dormant memory.

For a story about the rise of a football club; the owner maintains a high profile throughout; I counted 12 pictures of Maxwell in 64 pages. It’s hard to imagine that a book tracking a 3 year period of Manchester United’s success would have the Glazers gurning out of every page. The book is published by Queen Anne Press, one of Maxwell’s companiesy, and it’s hard not to ignore his cold hand on the shoulder of the author.

It’s no whitewash though; author John Ley, a journalist at the Oxford Mail, covers the failed merger between Reading and Oxford and, in relation to Jim Smith’s departure before the start of the 1985/6 season describes Maxwell’s decision making as ‘odd’. There is also mention of Maxwell’s threats to close the club if he didn’t get support from the local council for a new stadium, an echo of Firoz Kassam’s grandstanding 20 years later.

The copy is dated in its style; Ley regularly describes the aforementioned Treda as Shotton’s ‘pretty wife’ and Maxwell describes his business approach as ‘like a housewife, you can only spend what you’re given’. There’s no malice, it’s just very ‘of its time’. Heysel and the Bradford fire had just happened and English clubs were about to be thrown out of European competition, football was at its lowest ebb. The family friendly, all inclusive, media rich game we know today wouldn’t begin to rear its head for another five years.

The closing chapter is called ‘The Future’; which is always going to be worth a read 28 years later. Division 1 is recognised as a step into the unknown, and there is a fatalistic air about it all. If the club survive a couple of years, it says, then it can turn into a very good top flight club. It did, and it didn’t, of course. A new stadium is top of the list of key requirements with Maxwell threatening to close the club if the council didn’t cough up £250,000 towards ground improvements. The section claims that a new ground was looking more promising, but ‘not before 1990’. He was right about that.

There is prescience in Maxwell’s comments. He laments the £50 million of debt football clubs owed the banks (compared to £1.3bn of debt today). He says that football’s core problem at the time was that it never ‘got’ TV. He recognised that TV was at the core of football’s future prosperity years before others got on board. You suspect that although the mid-80s will forever be associated with our glory years, that, had Maxwell and the club joined forces about 7 years later when the Premier League boom happened, we might have achieved even more.

Book review: Running Through Walls, David Langan

I have to confess that when David Langan appeared on Twitter with an autobiography in the offing my immediate reaction was that it was a proxy account run by his literary agent. From a man who is notoriously shy and quiet, not to mention down on his luck, Langan’s tweets flowed with a combination of generic footballing schtick (Brian Clough quotes, for example) and stuff about how much he loved his former clubs.

The book, Running Through Walls, came out in September. It spends quite a lot of time scratching around for a story, and it’s not until the last two chapters that it makes sense. The final chapter is handed over to one of Langan’s ghost writers Trevor Keane. He confesses that he’s not a professional writer, and that it took a while to persuade a publisher to take the manuscript on. DB Publishing, the book’s publisher, include in their stable; Doncaster Wembley 2008 and Macclesfield Town – The League Story so Far.

This explains some of the book’s structural oddities. Niche publishing tends to neglect costly luxuries of editing and proofing. When describing Langan’s knee injuries, the authors manage to exessively use the word ‘knee’ 14 times in 2 pages. Each chapter concludes with an extended testimonial from one of Langan’s former team mates or friends, which become repetitious and interrupt the flow of the book. A good editor would have tightened the story up considerably.

Langan’s Oxford career is dismissed in the blink of an eye. The 1984/85 season is whisked through in a couple of lines, even though Langan scored a pile driver past Pat Jennings against Arsenal and got the goal that clinched promotion. The highlight of his club career; the Milk Cup win, is pretty vague. He only played because of injury to Neil Slatter, who he inexplicably calls John. He forgot to invite his son to the game. And he also talks of the celebratory journey back to Oxford ‘up the M1’ when presumably he means the M40.

There is much on how Langan’s life fell apart spectacularly after leaving Oxford. But you feel there’s more to it than he lets on; he gambled, but not seriously, and he drank. He was depressed and down in the dumps, but you can’t tell whether he was actually depressed or just down in the dumps. He was divorced twice and estranged from his children, but we’re not give an insight into how that happened.

Some of the football stories lack punch, although that’s not unusual in this kind of autobiography. I’ve yet to read any story in any book about ‘a craic’ that makes me want to be there. You feel like the designated driver sitting in the corner nursing a coke while others have the most hilarious booze filled night ever.

The penultimate chapter is most telling. It is handed over to Langan’s mother, a god-fearing worry-wort. She tells us that all she’s proud of her children, illustrating their good behaviour by announcing that none of them ever robbed anything, which seems a pretty low bar to judge anyone.

But Langan’s mother grew up in pre-war Ireland; 70% of the population were farmers. Her frame of reference for teaching her children the life skills needed to deal with a harsh cynical world in Thatcherite England seems fairly narrow. ‘Not robbing’ is a pretty universal, but ultimately limited morale code. As a result, Langan seems ill-equipped to cope with the modern world.

As if to illustrate this, the big story the book tries to explode is Langan’s omission from 1988 European Championship squad. This is presented as an injustice. But, when he explains the events in the run up to the selection of the squad, you find yourself biting your fist and wanting to grab the 1987 Dave Langan to shake him out of his naivety.

Basically he was already a physical wreck (even before he got to Oxford) and was sent out on loan twice during the preceding year with little real success. Jack Charlton introduced a  calculated approach to Irish football, plundering anyone with a vague link to the country. His innovation was a functional long ball game that suited the skills he had at his disposal. Langan was a victim of Charlton’s modernisation. It is (and always was) plainly obvious that Charlton was there to win. There is no loyalty in football and, 23 years later, Langan still seems unable to see that.

Basically, the modern world wasn’t built for people like David Langan. There is a cloying dewy eyed ‘oirish-ness’ about the book. Modern day Irish are keen to shed this, despite the media’s insistence in painting them as a happy-go-lucky band of diddly-diddly harmless drunkards. Langan is bewildered by this drive for change and hankers for something safer and more certain. In the middle class idyll, he should be enjoying his retirement on the after-dinner speaking circuit, but his skills and health allow him to do jobs that are now assigned to willing and healthy immigrants for a fraction of the cost. Quite how he is supposed to survive after he’s milked the only asset he has – the modest Langan legend – god only knows.

You feel helpless reading Langan’s plight, but at the same time you can see exactly how it has happened to him. Its not a remarkable book by any stretch, but I hope he sells shedloads none the less.

Book Review: Oxford United The Complete Record – Martin Brodetsky

The challenge with committing any ‘complete record’ to print is that unless your subject matter has died, it is incomplete the moment it’s published. The trick, therefore, is to time your cut-off point right. Frustratingly for author Martin Brodetsky, Oxford United – The Complete Record takes its cut at 2009, a year before Wembley and our ascent back to the Football League.

Brodetsky, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an Oxford United giga-fan and owner of, perhaps, the greatest independent club website in the country. I can’t say I’ve looked that hard; but there cannot be a more comprehensive record of any club anywhere in the country than the old technological boneshaker that is Rage Online. Like the leaning tower of Pisa, structurally, it defies logic and I genuinely fear for its imminent collapse, but while it still exists, it’s a work of art.

The book of that site is a labour of love; although having searched for its details on Amazon, and been confronted with suggestions that I might like QPR – The Complete Record and Coventry City – The Complete Record; there is a strong suggestion that this from a publishing stable specialising in this kind of thing.

Anyone familiar with the pragmatic tone Brodetsky took with Rage Online’s match reports will recognise the approach taken to the complete record. It is a well researched, entirely linear, blizzard of facts. A bit like the world’s longest Wikipedia entry. This is necessary; there’s a lot to get through; although some peripheral analysis and ideas about why things turned out like they did would be useful; what role did Robert Maxwell dubious millions play in the Glory Years? What motivated Firoz Kassam? How did the club sustain its support during the Conference years when loyalty was hardly being repaid in results? This is a product of exhaustive desk research that, perhaps, would have benefited from some interviews with key protagonists of the times.

This is no criticism; if you didn’t publishing to a template the book wouldn’t exist. If you’re planning produce a complete record for a small club you need to play the percentage game; play it straight and do it efficiently. Plus, even if you did get more insight from the players and managers involved; would they say anything interesting? Those with something to say will probably save the best bits for their own books. If you’re going to write a page-turning saga of the club’s history; those with nothing to lose – the fans – may be the best people to tell it. Now there’s a thought.

If you were ever to do a thesis on Oxford United or you were a newcomer to the club with an urgent need to get up to speed, then this, like Rage Online itself, is the kind of text that you need. It is a definitive first port of call; a necessary if not always thrilling, read.

The main part of the book feels like a well built house; really well constructed and well proportioned. However, once the story concludes in 2009 there are still nearly 400 pages to go. These are filled with a non-exhaustive list of key games and players, a history of our stadia and an utterly exhaustive season-by-season record of every opponent, result, team, player and attendance. This is a bit like going into the back garden of the house to find all the building materials and tools piled up waiting for collection. The raw materials that fed the story are there for you to dissect, if you want to. It’s almost a complete download of the Rage Online site. It’s difficult to know what purpose it serves in the internet era; perhaps it’s offered up so that you can produce your own complete record. In reality it is merely padding; the bits that are left on the cutting room floor, nobody needs to know who Tony Obi played against. It’s included to up the pagination and add a few quid to the price.

There is a lot of gumpf out there by players and managers about the club and its history. These accounts are inevitably warped and bias. The Complete Record anchors all this in reality; and the corpus of Oxford United literature is all the better for it.