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.

Midweek fixture: The strange case of Damian Batt

On the pitch, Damian Batt was a machine. A completely different full-back to his doughty and disciplined predecessors. He was signed by Chris Wilder from Grays Athletic in 2009, a statement of intent about the team he was trying to build to get us back to the Football League. Days before the signing we’d been docked 5 points for fielding an ineligible player. The signing of Batt felt like we weren’t going to take it anymore. Wilder wanted players who would dominate the opposition, Batt fitted perfectly.

Where most full-backs need a winger to share the load, Batt could patrol the right flank on his own. He could attack with pace and track back to shore up a solid back four. He just didn’t seem to stop, a gazelle in a sea of clod hopping buffalo.

It was the early days of Twitter and Batt was an enthusiastic adopter. Clubs hadn’t woken up to its opportunities, or risks, so he was free to enjoy the attention, while we enjoyed the access.

Batt was integral to our march back to the Football League, there was one particular game against Altrincham where we needed the win but were labouring, we missed a penalty and it looked like we were destined for a single point. Batt cut through it all smashing the ball home for a crucial 1-0 win. Back in the Football League he played in three famous derby wins; our first away win in 38 years in 2011, an epic tussle the following March, and a JPT win, just for good measure. He left in 2013. Improbably, he announced that he was moving the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS, but then he came back and promptly retired. Then he un-retired to play at the old folks home for Oxford United players; Eastleigh. Then he moved back to the Football League with Dagenham and Redbridge. Then, in 2015, he retired (again).

The Conference isn’t glamorous, many footballers had ways of supplementing their income, a hokum ‘health’ product called Herbalife was the business of choice. Poor, but fit young men promoting the health benefits of powders and shakes to desperate fat old men.

Batt was different, he launched Alexander Du’bel, an ambiguously positioned ‘lifestyle’ brand which had the strap line ‘Live Life Exclusively’.

There’s a character in the US sitcom Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford, who sets up a business, Entertainment 720, as high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate. It serves no obvious purpose, and has no income, bankrupting itself by spending lavishly on parties and marketing. On the face of it, Alexander Du’bel had a similar business model.

Even at the time, Alexander Du’bel seemed a bit lost, stuck somewhere between the tail end of lavish trend of bling Premier League footballers and the subtler, more aware and aspirational Instagram generation. For me, it was a bit too much, though I remained curious because of his Oxford connection.

How did he afford it? What did he do? His Conference salary couldn’t have funded it, whatever it was.

There was a lavish launch party, part of me thought it was ugly and gauche, part of me was a bit jealous. I didn’t ever want to live in that kind of world, but marketing is powerful so I still felt it wasn’t fair that others did.

I assumed that there was a business sitting behind the brand; as far as I could tell, it was some kind of service which offered discounts on luxury brands. Like Bicester Village? Except Alexander Du’bel didn’t mention which brands you could access through the service. His Twitter feed just became an endless feed of lavish photos. Eventually, I lost interest in Damian Batt.

Then, quite recently, I was idly googling something and stumbled across an article in The Telegraph which detailed how a charity – The Alexander Du’bel Wish Foundation – set up by ‘former football star’ Damian Batt had failed to deliver any of its promised charitable plans, or even set up properly as a charitable trust.

He was running a charity, that wasn’t a charity, which failed to do any charitable work. Little Mix were involved. Like, what? The article wasn’t particularly damning. The Charities Commission seemed to have procedural concerns about the foundation, but the article didn’t really go as far as implying that Batt was a deliberate fraudster. The implication was more that he was a bit of a lovable goon who had too many ideas, a slick line in chatter and no business sense. He had debts of £60,000, not insubstantial, but hardly a figure to deliver national headlines.

The article mentioned the wider Alexander Du’bel ‘empire’; several businesses, some of which had been liquidated, others which appeared dormant. There was a car financing business, something called ‘Celebration Gala Ltd’, a rights business, an operations business.

The Alexander Du’bel website is little more than an email address which promises to deliver ‘bespoke tailoring’. It’s all a bit weird. It features a biography which describes, in some detail, the career of Damian Batt. Except it doesn’t refer to Damian Batt, the man it describes is Damian Alexander-Du’bel.

Written entirely in the third person; it describes not only his football career, but also his glamorous post-sports career in which he became a fashion model in Monaco for Pal Zileri. He gushes about being the first non-F1 sports person to model at the Amber Lounge Fashion Show. It’s written in that Americanised hyperbolic language premium brands use to express themselves, as though what they are doing is genuinely life changing.

I then found a WordPress website with one lengthy post from December 2017. The post is apparently written by Damian Alexander Du’bel.

It talks about being invited to an event by an organisation called Alexander Du’Bel Group – which isn’t one of his many businesses listed on Companies House. It describes a presentation by ‘Managing Director Damian Batt’. If I were cynical, I might think that it was Damian Batt talking about himself in the third person, using a different name, about his own company. And if I was being very critical, I would say that’s not normal.

Not only does it seem that Du’bel isn’t Batt’s real name, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s real name. I couldn’t find a single person with the surname Du’bel apart from Alexander Damian. Translated from French it means ‘Of the beautiful’.

Dig deeper and there’s Fascinating People, Alexander Du’bel’s YouTube channel in which he interviews ‘famous and inspirational’ people. There are three videos, the main one has Batt interviewing someone called Simon Talling-Smith owner of Surf Air Europe on what appears to be his company’s private jet. Surf Air seem to be an American company that Forbes reported last year owed $2.4m to the IRS and had just been sued for $3.1m for unpaid bills. Talling-Smith’s Europe operation doesn’t come out favourably either. None of the three videos appear to feature anyone that you might describe as ‘famous’; Talling-Smith has 326 Twitter followers.

There’s a Blogger site (with a video), a Pinterest site, an Instagram site. Each one, presumably set up by Batt, he’s clearly been busy, but it’s hard to ascertain exactly why.

What is even more odd about all this is that none of the criticisms seem to go quite as far as inferring that Batt or Du’bel, or whoever, is acting in a deliberately deceitful way. The Charity Commission expressed their concern, but it remains unregistered and the link to their website returns a 404 error. Another abandoned endeavour.

Some footballers on retirement melt back into normal society; Steve Basham is an accountant, Anthony Tonkins a quantity surveyor. Others grimly cling onto the football world, like Mike Ford or Kevin Brock. It can’t be easy in the lower leagues, you live a dream, of sorts. Then, before you’re old, you retire knowing you’ve got years ahead of you which will never give you the same fulfilment. Perhaps hiding from that reality is the best option. Rather than deal with the realities of a post-football life, it seems that Damian Batt is destined to live his life exclusively in the curious world of Alexander Du’bel.

Damian Batt: One of Wilder’s original golden generation.

Following a impressive win over Burton, it could be argued that Chris Wilder is in the best shape he’s been in for years. The dawning of another golden era? Time will tell. But this peak comes in the same week that Damian Batt, the first of his original golden generation retired from full time football. 

Even the paramilitary wing of the Wilder Out campaign will have to admit that our manager is having a half-decent time of it at the moment. After our 2-0 win over Burton on Saturday, we’re unbeaten in seven, nine if you count last season, with maximum points away from home and we’re sitting comfortably second in the table.

It is sometimes difficult to remember what the club was like pre-Wilder. He, along with Kelvin Thomas, took a bloated mush and managed to use a key quality – our size – to our advantage. If Oxford were going to break out of the Conference, they needed to meet their own rhetoric and psychologically dominate the league. The result was a barrage of signings designed to meet that specific brief.

Of the team that eventually took us up at Wembley, Damian Batt, who retired from full-time football last week, was Wilder’s first permanent signing. Of the Wembley team, Adam Chapman had come in on loan, James Constable was already in place. If you want to have an idea of the state we were in at the time, a YouTube clip of Batt’s debut opens with the announcement that the club had been deducted 5 points for fielding an ineligible player – Eddie Hutchinson. The height of our incompetence and disjointedness.

The deduction ultimately put paid to our play-off chances, but in the final months of that season, Wilder’s United created a template for how it was going to take on the Conference. The following summer, the Wilder/Thomas revolution truly rolled with singings of Matt Green, Jack Midson, Dannie Bulman, Mark Creighton and Ryan Clarke amongst others.

Batt was part of that new culture, the Conference is made up of three types of teams; those who are in chaos, those who are well organised and those who are well organised and have a striker who scores goals. With that paucity of quality; Batt’s physical attributes; his pace and fitness, allowed him to maraud up and down the right flank, overwhelming and demoralising those who played against him.

It was during the 2009/10 season that he scored his only Kassam Stadium goal from open play; in some ways it summed up much of the season. It was a cold, grey Halloween day against a well organised Altrincham side. The best part of the season. We bludgeoned away at them, missing a penalty along the way, eventually in the second half, Batt stepped up and larruped the ball home; a frustrated hurrumph which finally put them to the sword.

I said at the time, “Come the day of victory, you will cover us in garlands and kiss us passionately on the lips, and celebrate us with us as one, but as much as we will tell you the stories of Damien Batt’s 20 yard drive, you will never know what we’ve been through.”

Batt was part of the first generation of tweeters, which galvanised his relationship with the fans. He came over as intelligent and articulate as those coming from non-league football often do. He built up a reputation as one of the good guys; something that proved increasingly important during the season’s wobble when the club wrestled to find a replacement for the injured Adam Murray.

Adam Chapman was that man, and Wembley happened. The following season, Batt continued to prowl the flanks of League 2. It was a season of giddy abandon, we had highs, like the 6-0 win over Bristol Rovers, but were more often than not sucker punched by teams with no more quality, but a bit more guile. The season could have gone horribly wrong had Wilder not signed Paul McClaren to bolster a soft midfield which had been stripped of Dannie Bulman.

Batt built a reputation that got him into the League 2 end of season team. That surprised some given that we’d been undermined by naive defending. But with his pace and fitness Batt, plus his ability to whip in a mean outswinging cross, he would have been enough of a pain to build a reputation amongst a sea of anonymous League 2 right-backs.

At the end of the season, Batt acknowledged that despite the accolade, his defending needed to improve. Chris Wilder concurred, signing Andy Whing, Michael Duberry and Tony Capaldi with a plan to create a more mature back-four alongside Jake Wright. It seemed like Batt’s days were numbered. Capaldi missed the whole of his first season and Whing, after a shaky start, was detailed to fill in in the middle of the back four or in midfield. Batt continued as a first choice pick, albeit in a more shackled role.

Meanwhile, off the field, Batt’s attention seemed to be turning to his next career; not joining the Herbalife bandwagon, he launched something called Alexander Dubell. I’ve no idea what that is, and I don’t know what ‘living life exclusively’ actually is, I suspect I’m not really the target audience; anyone who can afford a £10k+ watch rarely needs a price discount to persuade them to buy.

Batt’s final season came with the fog of injuries, poor pitches, hand-wringing and finger pointing. He continued to perform solidly in between comparatively brief spells of injury. But a clear out was looming. A clutter of loanees and short term deals were shelled, stars who’d lost their shine moved along. Batt didn’t seem to have done much wrong, so it was a bit of a surprise when his name was included on the list. The reason seemed to be little more than it was time for a bit of a refresh.

A move to Vancouver Whitecaps seemed to be on the cards, but for some reason that didn’t materialise. Talking about having some great offers, which couldn’t have been that great given he turned them down, he announced his retirement and then promptly turned up; part-time, at Eastleigh, playing some way below where he should be, you’d think.

It’s difficult to place Batt in the great scheme of things. He should always be remembered as one of the brave that took on the club and its demons and helped to turn it round. As an early adopter of that new culture, he gains extra points for not caving in during those formative months. Perhaps he doesn’t realise how deep a hole he managed to dig us out of. For that he’ll always be welcomed back to the Kassam.

Good Friday agreements

The last minute draw against Morecambe brought the most vocal complaints yet from the East Stand. However, the more concerning thing has to be the fact that come the end of the season, we’ll have something like 18 players free to leave. 

The temptation, after Friday’s draw with Morecambe, is to launch into another debate about the future of Chris Wilder. But his fate is surely sealed one way or the other; whichever side Ian Lenagan falls on, he’s not likely to need anymore evidence to aid his decision. Friday’s performance was not bad, it was average and massively frustrating, like our season.

I do take some exception to two key criticisms of Wilder, however. The first is the complaint that his interviews on the radio are full of excuses, when in fact they are merely explanations. His explanation of the mistakes that were made in the lead up to the equaliser were descriptions of fact not excuses.

I also doubt that Wilder is not aware of the link between the players’ performances and his responsibility as manager. So while he talked about his players actions – not taking the ball into the corner, Constable getting caught offside – he’s not simply absolving himself of his ultimate accountability to deliver performances.

The question that Lenagan needs to answer is whether Wilder can establish forward momentum and more crucially, what impact his presence might have on the club in the short term, not least in terms of season ticket sales.

So, that’s me not debating Chris Wilder. The more concerning thing is the number of players who are about to go out of contract. By my reckoning 19 players can walk away come May.

The club have options on Crocombe, Marsh, Potter and Davis, and it seems fairly logical that they will be taken up. Crocombe and Marsh are a sign that there have been improvements, at least, in youth development. Davis can be a bit heavy footed, but he has pace and strength and gives options down the left. Potter’s form is fitful, but he offers creativity and, though its often difficult to see it, something approaching a goal threat.

You’d expect Damian Batt and Andy Whing to be offered new deals. However, I think Whing may go; he’s not stupid and will know that he has value in the market at League 1 or 2 level. The club’s potential is not what it was when he originally signed, there’ll be no Leven or Duberry type signings this summer, will he want to stick around to see whether things improve when there’s a risk he’ll spend another two years treading water? He’ll be 32/33 at the end of another contract, so you’d think this was his last chance at commanding a reasonable salary before he retires. Batt seems settled at Oxford, he’s got other interests, the manager likes him, and it’s difficult to see why he wouldn’t sign.

Last season, alongside Whing, there was a glut of comparatively big time signings. Tony Capaldi barely featured in his first year due to injury, and has done little to suggest he’ll be the first in the queue for a new contract. Deane Smalley has had a torrid time, although there’s something about his general application  that makes me think that he’s worth another year. Jon-Paul Pittman whose injuries suggest he hasn’t got the robustness we need; I can’t see him staying.

The big two from 2011 were Peter Leven and Michael Duberry. If Leven is offered a new contract, then it’s surely going to be on terms that reflect his general lack of availability. I doubt he’ll take that sort of offer and, while he still maintains some kind of reputation, will move on. Duberry, I think, may be interested in another season, especially as this season as been so wretched for him. I think there’s a chance the club may oblige in the vein hope that he’ll recreate the commanding form of his first season. I think that’s a mistake. When fit, he’s the best defender in the club and can be one of the best in the league, but age plays against him. Duberry was part of a strategy to have accelerated success, this doesn’t seem to have worked, it’s time to move to something else.

We’re also seeing the expiration of the post-promotion contracts with Tom Craddock, Simon Heslop and Harry Worley all up for renewal. I still think Craddock is a class act, but his style (less aggressive than Constable and Smalley) and his injury record play against him. His future, I think, is based on whether alternatives can be found, but I also think that his goalscoring record will see him getting other offers. I’d be surprised if he was at the club next year.

Simon Heslop has continuously flattered to deceive. Scorer of howitzer goals in his first season in particular, he now looks like someone who doesn’t even want to play football anymore. Worley also just doesn’t seem to have the extra gear in his development. He was part of a error prone defence in the first year back, it seemed Duberry could come in and steady the ship while Worley found his feet. While I think that he may have a future as an impact striker, there’s no way the club will take the time to test that theory. Neither will be at the club next year.

Which leaves more recent signings; I like Scott Davies and think it worthy of a new contract, and O’Brien offers reliability we’re looking for. Parker is willing, but replaceable. And I can’t see the club using up unnecessary wages on McCormick if Ryan Clarke is coming back with Crocombe and Brown as cover.

All of which could leave us with a gaping hole next season. All of which suggests summer risks becoming a massive scramble just for bodies let alone the class we need or that Wilder will be going and the decisions are being delayed to give his replacement more options.

2012 squad review – goalkeepers and defence

With the post-season hysterics starting to subside, clubs up and down the country are going through the cathartic process of shedding themselves of deadweights. This process of renewal – soon to be followed by a slew of new signings – encourages everyone to return in August with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

Reading some views of our squad, it’s a wonder that we have any players left at all. Some would have preferred a  frenzied mass slaughter with no player spared the pyre. One of the few exceptions was Ryan Clarke, who gets the Oxblogger Player of the Year Award for the second year running. It is to our massive advantage that other clubs seem too dopey to look at Clarke. His presence, or not, has defined our season. With him in goal we were dependable and effective. Then, when injured he palmed the ball into his own net against Torquay which was a pivot in our and his season.

In came Wayne Brown, who I’d envisaged had spent most his time doing odd jobs around the stadium. He proved himself to be more than a worthy replacement. Just as we thought we’d got away with it he too got injured. Connor Ripley came in and looked shakey beyond belief. We completed the season with four keepers in five games. It was hardly the bedrock upon which to sustain an effective promotion chase. If people want to blame Chris Wilder for any failure; they might want to consider how good Ryan Clarke was up to the point he got injured and how much we missed him at the moment we needed him most.

The hand-ringing that surrounded our failure to reach the play-offs masks the fact that defensively this season has been a vast improvement on last. Last season we looked porous and niave. The introduction of Michael Duberry has transformed the back-four. His influence, assurance and experience made a critical difference. For a period he was neck and neck with Clarke in terms of player of the year, but he seemed to fade marginally as the season progressed.  Phil Gilchrist was similarly dominant when he returned to the club in our first Conference year, but his performances fell away as a career of wear and tear took their toll. The only concern about Duberry, given his age, is that he could blow up spectacularly at any point next season.

Jake Wright is a great leader and clearly respected by his team mates, but he still gives me the heebie jeebies. He has been caught out many times over the last couple of years trying to be too clever; glancing back headers or playmaking from the back-four. I do wonder whether Harry Worley, whose brief appearances this season have shown him to be a more than able deputy, might feature more regularly next season.

With the introduction of Liam Davis our full-backs have looked more balanced. Davis is pacey and strong, although his crossing could be improved and he always seems to want to beat one too many players. On the other side, Damien Batt, fresh from being voted the best right-back in the division at the end of 2010/11, seemed a more subdued. Perhaps he was fulfilling his pledge to work on his defensive work, perhaps age is beginning to catch up on him a little. It’s a tricky balance because Batt is a potent force going forward; but it does leave us with a gap at the back when he does.

Wembley romantisists will be saddened by the inevitable departure of Anthony Tonkin. Oddly, Tonkin has looked more aggressive than in previous years, with his performance against Swindon being his standout display for Oxford. The emergence of Davis and the largely absent Capaldi did leave Tonkin with little future at the club.

Kassam All Star XI – Right back

Sam Ricketts started no more than 10 games at the Kassam Stadium, but his name is so significant it’s practically a noun. Ricketts was the Nicky Butt of his generation, the nearly man in comparison to contemporaries Paul Powell, Chris Hackett, Jamie Brooks, Dean Whitehead and the daddy of them all, Joey Beauchamp.

Eventually he was jettisoned to few complaints. Ian Atkins had an experienced side that Ricketts rattled around the fringes of. He found a home at the financially reckless Telford, moved to Swansea and then to Hull. He became a Welsh international (but, who hasn’t?). At Hull he was part of the squad promoted to the Premier League and despite their implosion, he found himself at Bolton, a Premier League regular.

To ‘Ricketts’ at Oxford is to leave the club an apparent failure only to succeed elsewhere. The Kassam’s history is flooded with similar stories, but Ricketts is the biggest Ricketts of the lot.

The first right-back at the Kassam Stadium was Sam Stockley, who arrived with a reputation for being the division’s best right-back. In a re-modelled back-four he stuttered along with the rest of the defence.

Ian Atkins replaced Stockley with Scott McNiven. McNiven, like all Atkins’ defensive signings was as solid as a rock. But despite being involved in the win against Swindon and the subsequent trip to Arsenal, can I remember a definitive McNiven moment? Not one. He had a big backside, but that’s all I remember.

Graham Rix replaced McNiven with Dave Mackay who occupied the right-back slot for a solid year before Lee Mansell was brought in to steer the team into the Conference. Mansell did at least look like he was trying, although it was rarely with any effect. He moved on to Torquay and conspired get relegated again.

The Conference-era opened with Eddie Anaclet being drafted into the right-back slot. Not a typical Jim Smith signing; Anaclet was young and inexperienced. He was a consistent performer in his first season, winning the Oxblogger Player of the Season. When we failed to get promoted, confidence drained form the club and Anaclet’s with it. Injury didn’t help, but he was never the same.

Darren Patterson’s paternal instincts saw James Clarke graduate from his all-conquering youth team. Despite charitable support from the fans he was limited in ability and short of temper. Chris Wilder arrived, and he too was gone.

Wilder’s man has always been Damien Batt who would have been a shoe-in for the right back slot in the All-Star XI. But, for his phoenix-like qualities, Sam Ricketts is the man who gets the nod.

The season in review: the defence

A Chris Wilder squad is like Crash Mountain on Total Wipeout. It continually spins forebodingly. Some make it to the relative calm and stability of the centre, but most end up being thrown in the water.

In such a dynamic environment, it is somewhat ironic then that in a season in which we struggled to keep clean sheets and ended with a negative goal difference that the back five were the most stable component of the first team.

In a sense it’s telling, worrying really, that Ryan Clarke is my player of the season. When goalkeepers are noticeably the best player in team there’s usually something wrong that’s leading to all his champagne moments. But credit where it’s due, the odd flap aside, Clarke’s shot stopping has been of a quality of a much higher level.

Damien Batt’s inclusion in the team is a question of tactical philosophy. He may not be the best defender in the world, but to replace him would sacrifice something going forward. Nobody has his dynamism and impetus. For many years we’ve seen wingers toiling as they try to carve out a cross without any support. Batt’s willingness to get forward is something to be celebrated.

On the other side Anthony Tonkin has perhaps struggled a touch. Neither rock hard defender nor rampant wing back; he’s often caught between those two stools. It’s telling that a lot of goals have been conceded from crosses, and a lot from the left hand side. Tonkin doesn’t impose his game on opponents like Batt does. His place is perhaps most under threat.

For me, Harry Worley ran Clarke close for player of the season. He’s a modern defender in the sense that he mixes both athleticism and ability with the classic willingness to put his head where others won’t. If he’s missing something it’s the ability to organise, which will come with experience. Jake Wright clearly has the respect of his team, but of the two was probably more prone to individual mistakes during the season. If you’re going to tighten up the defence you’d expect to see some focus being put on the centre. Wright’s had a decent season, but may not be as prominent during 2011/12 has he has been.

Wee Stevie Kinniburgh looked a bit out of depth. He may be lacking match sharpness, but Chris Wilder isn’t the kind of man to give that kind of excuse any sympathy. It was not a surprise when it was announced he was free to go. Ben Purkiss is a bit more of a surprise as he is both versatile and dependable. He’s not likely to see an extended run in the team over, say, Batt, but when he was needed he did his job well.

Many other defenders wallowed in the water of Chris Wilder’s Crash Mountain pool – Lee Franks, Ben Futcher and Mark Creighton – joining them will be Eastwood, Hanson and Sangare, who enjoyed an odd but fleeting cult status, but none will be missed come next season.