Before it was infested by Under 23 Premier League teams, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was a half decent tournament. At least when you got to the final. The last to maintain its integrity was 2016 where we faced Barnsley in the final. It was a joyous affair, despite the 3-2 defeat. Where are those brave men now?
Likeable weak link in an otherwise relentlessly effective team. Shared glove-based responsibilities with Sam Slocombe for most of the season. Replaced by Simon Eastwood once promotion was confirmed. Eventually went to Barnet on loan where he was briefly announced as playing for their ladies team. Now at FC Vaduz, he’s been capped by Lichenstein over 20 times and recently played against Italy.
More than capable right-back signed on loan from Everton filling a not inconsiderable hole left by George Baldock. Slotted seamlessly into the team under the tutelage of Alex MacDonald. Headed back to Everton, playing the final game of the 2015/16 season. He was part of the England team which won the Under 20 World Cup in 2017. Has spent most of his time since in and out of their starting eleven at The Toffees.
Johnny Mullins (captain)
Started the season as a first choice centre-back before falling down the pecking order. Captained the side due to Jake Wright not being fully fit. Headed for Luton at the end of the promotion season where he won promotion, before joining Cheltenham.
Cheyenne Amarni Keanu Roma Dunkley cemented a place in Oxford United folklore at Wembley by doing a Cruyff turn in his own box. Also managed to score Barnsley’s first goal. Spent most of the season overcoming Johnny Mullins in the centre of defence. Scored a decisive goal against Wycombe to seal promotion, dominant in our first year in League 1 before signing for Wigan Athletic. Won promotion to The Championship the following season.
Signed on loan from Fulham in January 2016, played only nine games before heading back. Started due to an injury to Joe Skarz. A Welsh Under-21 international, his professional career petered out, playing for Wrexham and Bala Town before ending up at Cefn Druids, A man with hidden talents, Evans is a qualified hairdresser and plays in the band Faded Strangers.
Lovable tireless winger signed from Burton at Michael Appleton’s lowest ebb. Boundless enthusiasm for the game dragged us out of the fug and into the 2015/16 season. A regular through the promotion year before being unceremoniously sold to Mansfield Town.
Oxford United survivor originally signed by Chris Wilder from Coventry City. Made the starting eleven due to a lunging John Lundstram tackle which gained a red card and a ban. Players came and went, as did managers, but Ruffels stayed. Mostly played in midfield, but converted to full-back under Karl Robinson, became a specialist in spectacular last minute goals.
Wide shouldered marauding midfielder whose goals from midfield were critical to pretty much everything we did well that season. Scored a decisive goal at Carlisle at the end of the season. The following season in League One he continued his good form until he fell out with Michael Appleton, possibly over his reaction to only being a substitute in the JPT Final against Coventry the following season, where he also scored. Signed for Bristol Rovers in the summer.
Career-minded local boy flitted in and out of the team throughout the promotion season. Scored the opener in the final to wild celebration. Also scored the last goal of the season against Wycombe before flouncing off to Bristol City in the summer. A Republic of Ireland international.
Ethereal goal machine who initially joined on loan from West Brom. Heralded a new era when he was announced as a permanent signing the following summer, smashed in over 20 goals before joining Leeds United for £4m.
Precise, analytical, focussed – everything that Michael Appleton was, Danny Hylton wasn’t. Signed by Gary Waddock weeks before the Darryl Eales revolution took hold. Stuck to the first team like chewing gum on your shoe. Scored the second goal which briefly raised hopes of a revival. At the end of the season, he headed for Luton Town where he won promotion. More recently spent most of his time cheerleading from the sidelines as Luton head for the Championship.
Initially signed to replace Ryan Clarke, Slocombe’s patchy form saw him chopping and changing with Benji Buchel throughout the season. Missed out on Wembley, but played in our 3-2 giant killing over Swansea. The signing of Simon Eastwood pushed him out the door to Blackpool. Lasted a year before going to Bristol Rovers. Loaned to Lincoln in 2019.
A leader of men who was signed by Chris Wilder in 2010. Won promotion to the Football League at the end of that year. Injury meant he missed out on being the first Oxford United player to play at Wembley twice. Led the team to promotion, but re-joined Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a defensive re-shuffle when Curtis Nelson arrived. Won promotion with the Blades where he still is, albeit now sidelined by injury.
A player who seemed to be so frequently injured, successive managers didn’t have the heart to release him. Survived Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and became a regular in Karl Robinson’s starting eleven.
Once heralded as the future of the football club; Ashby achieved just seven appearances before being released. Signed for Oxford City.
George Waring (replaced Callum O’Dowda)
A proper unit signed on loan from Stoke City, flitted in and out of the team scoring once. Following a series of loan moves he headed for Tranmere before joining Chester in 2019.
Chris Maguire (replaced Alex MacDonald)
Enigmatic magician signed on loan from Rotherham. Sulked from one club to another, disgusted by the mediocrity around him. At Oxford, however, he bloomed and signed permanently in 2016. Scored twice in a derby win over Swindon and generally oozed genius. Appleton’s departure scuppered chances of a renewed contract where he made a disasterous move to Bury. Following their relegation he was signed by Sunderland where he initially regained form. Slipped out of the reckoning as the season progressed.
Jordan Bowery (replaced Danny Hylton)
One of numerous target men that Michael Appleton signed. Unlike most of the others, he weighed in with seven goals during his time with the club including a critical winner at Portsmouth. Dropped to the Conference with Leyton Orient where he failed to find any form. Signed on loan with Crewe before being made permanent, scoring twenty goals for the club.
Michael Appleton’s time in charge at Oxford will be remembered as nothing but glorious. It didn’t start that way though. He lost his first four league games in front of an increasingly suspicious home crowd, flirted with relegation and chugged along to finish 13th in his first season. During that time he played no less than 42 different players, performing what he now calls ‘major surgery’ on the squad as the season progressed. Have you ever wondered what happened to them all?
Once so much the future of the club (yes, another one) Chris Wilder named him on the bench of a Conference game just so ensure we could maximise any transfer fees we might get for him. Made a total of seven appearances before being released. Now at Oxford City.
An old mate of Michael Appleton’s from Portsmouth and former FA Cup winner. Ashdown came in late in the season to replace Ryan Clarke. Made a decent fist of it as we started to turn the corner. Now retired.
Gorgeous George was brought in with the help of Dave Jones from Sky Sports from MK Dons. Signed for another year on loan in 2015, but only lasted until January when one Karl Robinson dragged him back to help out with their relegation fight from the Championship. Bought by Sheffield United in 2017 by Chris Wilder.
For a short while Barnett was the answer to all our problems. The big strong target man that Michael Appleton had been looking for. At the end of his loan period, despite efforts to sign him permanently, he moved to Shrewsbury. Now at Cheltenham.
Sometimes there are players who play for minutes before disappearing, and for some reason you remember them when everyone else forgets. Richard Brindley is one of those players for me. Made 3 appearances on loan from Scunthorpe, now plays for Bromley.
Part of an original batch of signings at the start of the Appleton era. Showed precious little, lasted eleven games, including a half decent performance against West Brom in the league cup before being shipped out to Mansfield. Moved to Shrewsbury and was part of the team that nearly won promotion in 2018. Moved to Coventry City at the end of that season. Great hair.
A little glimmer of hope when signed from Bristol City showing plenty of pace down the flank. Lasted nine games before heading back to his parent club. After a series of loan moves, he eventually settled with Fleetwood.
Perhaps the weirdest of all the signings that season. Rumoured to have joined from Jarrow Roofing, it was announced that he’d gone on loan to Torquay before anyone had confirmed he had signed. Lasted three games before heading back north. Now at Whitby Town.
A club legend in the twilight of his Oxford career. Appleton stuck with him for most of the season before passing the gloves to Jamie Ashdown. Clarke joined Northampton Town the following year, but despite winning promotion, didn’t play a single game. He joined Wimbledon and Eastleigh before settling with Torquay and then Bath City.
One of the inherited players having been signed in 2014. Saw his contract out and left at the end of the season in 2016. Headed out to India for while before returning to play for Halifax and Leyton Orient. Eventually ended up coaching at Bradford and was somewhat thrown under a bus when he became head coach briefly in 2018
Perpetual understudy to Ryan Clarke, Crocombe was a New Zealand international whose highlight at Oxford was keeping goal in a heroic League Cup defeat to West Brom at the start of Appleton’s reign. Moved to Carlisle after being released, then ended up at noveau riche Salford in the National League.
Came from Kidderminster but spent much of his early career on the bench. He described himself on his Twitter account as the club mascot. Eventually overhauled Johnny Mullins for a first team spot, did a Cruyff turn at Wembley, scored a goal that clinched promotion, played his part in everything we did that was good for two years before going on to play for Wigan in the Championship.
A player with legs like out of control fire hoses. Seemed to specialise in finding new and interesting ways of not connecting with crosses or misreading through-balls. Went back to Chesterfield where he joined Blackpool.
Most famous for being the ball boy who got in an altercation with a Swindon player during the 2012 derby win. Played just 1 game before moving to Norway. Retired due to injury in 2017 aged just 21 and became a personal trainer.
A battering ram of a striker who came from Dundalk with a decent goalscoring reputation. Never really got going at Oxford, although scored a critical equaliser in a draw at Luton in the promotion season. Went to Mansfield before heading back to Dundalk where he’s started banging in the goals again. Very much found his level.
Yet another bright young thing signed on loan from Charlton. Holmes-Dennis started with a man of the match performance against Tranmere, but in his subsequent 14 games ran out of steam. Headed back to Charlton before going to Huddersfield. Managed a handful of games before heading to Bristol Rovers.
Arrived from Brighton with a decent reputation but only managed four games before being released at the end of the season. Played for Exeter City, Hemel Hempstead and is now at Northcote City.
Signed on a short term contract after leaving Birmingham City, expected to be the player who would run the team. Only made seven appearances before disappearing off to Eastleigh. Last heard of at Whitehawk.
One of many youth team products who rotated through the first team. Made one first team substitution before having his contract cancelled so he could move to Norway. Returned to Hayes and Yeading, then Banbury.
When Michael Appleton talks about doing major surgery on the squad David Hunt frequently springs to mind (also see: Tom Newey). A tediously dependable full-back in a slowly decaying squad, he was eventually shipped out to Barnet and slipped into non-league with Margate and Wealdstone.
A strange bearded wizard, signed by Gary Waddock and adopted by Michael Appleton. Appleton described him as not very bright, but he carried him through the early months with an prodigious work ethic. Joined the glory train in 2016, winning promotion before joining Luton to everyone’s dismay that summer. I love Danny Hylton.
Goalkeeper who signed on loan from Sheffield United to cover Ryan Clarke’s injury. Played 10 games before returning to Yorkshire. Played a season at AFC Wimbledon on loan before being signed by Hull City.
A true survivor, despite crippling injuries and changes of management, Long is still with the club in 2019 despite only ever making very occasional appearances.
Adopted by Michael Appleton having been signed in 2013 by Chris Wilder. Crippled with injuries meant he was limited to just seven appearances before being released. Played nearly 100 games for Wimbledon, winning promotion to League 1 in 2016, but retired in 2018 following a persistent injury.
The first of many big strong target men Michael Appleton tried. Signed on loan from Norwich, the job of leading the line in a formative team was too much for the teenager. Scored in an early League Cup success over Bristol City, he returned to Norwich after seven games. Still at Norwich now and has had a range of loans, most significantly at Shrewsbury in 2017/18 when he nearly got promoted to the Championship.
A dependable leader and a rare beacon of consistency. Mullins partnered Jake Wright for a majority the season and a good chunk of the promotion season in 2015/16 before being slowly overhauled by Chey Dunkley. Ended the year on the bench, was released in 2016 where he signed for Luton Town. Won promotion in 2016/17 before slowly falling out of favour. Signed for Cheltenham in 2018.
An icon of Chris Wilder’s latter years at Oxford, a soul-destroyingly dependable full-back. Followed Wilder to Northampton Town making no more than a dozen appearances over two years. Retired due to injury and turned to coaching. Currently back with his first club Leeds as Under 16 coach.
One of many juniors rising through the club’s ranks at the time. Looked lightweight in 2014/15, but bulked up considerably the following season. A marginal rather than key player of the promotion squad, he was signed by Bristol City in 2016 and capped by the Republic of Ireland.
Lovable, jinky winger, Alfie Potter is the boy who never grew up. Signed by Chris Wilder, he seemed to have a knack of scoring memorable goals including the winner at Wembley in 2010, one in the opening game of the season against Portsmouth and a JPT winner over Swindon. Lost his way under Michael Appleton. Moved to Wimbledon, then Northampton Town back with Wilder. Now at Billericay Town. If you want to feel old; he’s thirty.
Signed from MK Dons, played one game and leaves a legacy of being one of those players fans reference when trying to make an ironic point. Chugged along with MK Dons until 2018 when he joined Bracknell Town.
Perpetual bridesmaid centre-back, but one who put his heart and soul into everything he did. A graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University and brother of England Cerebral Palsy Goalkeeper Jordan, Raynes left for Mansfield, had a good couple of years at Carlisle before moving to Crewe. Currently on loan at Hartlepool.
A full-back signed on loan from Bolton, played over 30 games before joining Bury just as we thought we’d found a decent player. Signed for Shrewsbury in 2016, one of a number of players who became important to their unlikely promotion push in 2018. Left for Plymouth in the summer of 2018.
Perpetually the answer to all club’s goalscoring problems for three years, Roberts scored a couple of top class goals in about 30 games. His brother was tragically killed in a car accident in 2017, Roberts’ career slowed and stalled following a series of loans. Left in 2018 for Hereford.
Arrived from West Browm almost undercover in a blizzard of loan signings, initially Roofe looked like he was just another lightweight destined to disappear. Then scored two in a win over Wycombe and couldn’t stop scoring. Signed permanently in 2015/16 scoring over 25 goals as we were promoted to League 1, scored against Swindon and Swansea in the FA Cup. Bought by Leeds United for over £4m in 2016. After a bit of a slow start, grew to become an integral part of Leeds’ push for promotion to the Premier League.
Originally joined as a teenager in our first season in the Conference from Manchester United. Enjoyed promotion to the Football League with Newport and Aldershot before returning to Oxford in 2013. Chalked up over 80 games, but never really enjoyed a consistent run in the team. Briefly followed Chris Wilder to Northampton before moving to Portsmouth. Played a marginal role in their promotion to League 1. Went to Swindon on loan in January 2019. Urgh.
Signed from Coventry City as part of a policy of solving the club’s financing problems by nurturing youth. Ruffels became one of the squads most dependable players, winning promotion with the squad in 2016 and playing at Wembley twice. Still with the club where he’s enjoying an extended period in the team at a full-back.
The best defender in the land was signed in 2015 from Rotherham. Became an integral part of the promotion winning back-four, heroically playing through injury to get us over the line in 2016. Slowly fell out of favour and left to join Bury, his previous club, in 2017. Dogged by injury, he’s yet to play a dozen games in the in the two years he’s been at the club.
Played a mostly forgettable six games towards the end of the season, his only goal being a critical winner against Carlisle which was a great stride towards safety. Enjoyed a productive two years at Blackpool where he won promotion from League 2, joined Rotherham in 2018.
A grizzled old pro signed by Chris Wilder, all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Injuries and age slowly crept up on him, and he announced his retirement to take up a coaching role with the club in 2015. Left the club in 2017 to coach Kidderminster Harriers. Last year joined Coventry City as an academy coach.
Surly, mercurial centre-back Jake Wright joined in 2010, won promotion to the Football League. Led the team through Chris Wilder’s reign and the chaos that followed. Was Michael Appleton’s captain during the 2015/16 promotion season, voted best player of the first 10 years of Oxblogger that year. Left for Sheffield United in what looked like a reshuffle that had gone wrong. Enjoyed promotion to the Championship before injury limited his game time with the Blades.
It was like watching the final scene of a particularly gruesome episode of Game of Thrones. One where a much loved character gets eviscerated in front of your eyes.
When the news came in that Danny Hylton had turned down a new contract offer and signed for Luton, first there was disbelief, then shock, then anger, but all the while there was helplessness.
While Twitter screamed my office was silent as everyone soft-pedalled their way through the first day back after the Bank Holiday. On the screen there was indignation and barbarism. I wanted to claw at the screen to stop the news coming in, it was horrible.
There doesn’t seem to be a good footballing reason for Hylton to leave. He’s well loved and played the best football of his career at Oxford. It’s possible he feels like he’s pushing his luck being part of a League 1 squad and that if he came up against Sheffield United or MK Dons he’d get found out.
I’ve heard players say (long after the event) that they chose to leave clubs because they were getting too successful and the pressure was too great. Could Danny Hylton be self-aware enough to think of himself as an imposter? Maybe he feels more comfortable in League 2.
Presumably the money was good and any smart agent will know that now is the time to cash in. The picture of Hylton with his Luton shirt hardly smacked of someone who had made his dream move, but you can read what you like into one photo.
Hylton brought a different quality to Oxford, he was an eccentric; a step away from increasingly measured and scientific approach Michael Appleton has brought into the club. Like Bez from the Happy Mondays, a googly eyed space cadet gooning around in front of a tight rhythm section. Signed by Gary Waddock, in many ways, he made no sense at all.
Is this a good move for Hylton? Financially, I imagine so, Luton are clearly spending heavily to secure their promotion ambitions having also signed Johnny Mullins. But, will Hylton perform outside the bubble of the Oxford coaching machine?
Over a career that’s lasted a decade, nearly half of Hylton’s career goals have come in the last two years, in 2012 he was charged with racist abuse. While I doubt that was malicious, it shows that there’s a fine line between genius and madness. There’s also his goal profile; 30% of his Oxford goals were scored in August. Half by October. While his workrate is immense he does appear to run out of steam quite easily. It’s telling that at Christmas it looked like he was leaving for Hartlepool.
Getting the most out of Danny Hylton is not easy, but it’s something that Michael Appleton managed to achieve. I think it was the application of Appleton’s science which complemented Hylton’s instinctive art. I don’t think it will be easy to replicate elsewhere.
While I think he is replaceable, we lose a little something with Hylton’s departure. I suspect if we are to compete in League 1 or go even higher, then we’ll have to become much more measured and controlled, and in Hylton we had something very warm and human. We may never see his like again.
I feel a bit conflicted; I’ve long been an advocate of the long steady development of a football club. Less boom and bust, less hire and fire. I was proud of the fact we had a manager that was the third longest serving in professional football. I liked that we were committed to investing in local talent for the long term. What’s more, it worked, the steady progress saw us improve annually; albeit by decreasing margins in later years.
But, only five games into his reign, I am finding myself critical of Michael Appleton. He hasn’t benefited from a stellar start, like Chris Wilder did, but at the same time he’s yet to match Wilder’s seasonal winless streaks, although not by much. By the token that we should look to the long term, Appleton needs time. So why am I frustrated by him so soon?
Defenders of Appleton say his style of football is an improvement on what went before and that good will out; if we play the right way we will win games, we just need to be patient. The style has improved, chances were being created against Portsmouth, but another defeat and with it a drop to the bottom of the table shows that at the plan isn’t working in terms of results.
I struggle with the results/performance equation. I agree with the aesthetic of playing football the right way, but only if you get the right results. The best times I’ve had as an Oxford supporter at the Kassam were under the pragmatic tactics of Ian Atkins and Chris Wilder. The common factor was we won games.
I’m not sure, on reflection, that it is Appleton where my frustrations lie. During the summer, Ashton and Eales came piling into the club; all toothy smiles and promises of passion. The callous removal of Gary Waddock suggested that they had arrived with a sure-fire winning plan. But instead, they’ve installed a manager and starved him of resources. Or at least, struggled to get their act together. Time will tell as to whether they were unable or unwilling to invest in players, but at best it appears that they beyond a hectic PR schedule, they didn’t have a plan, certainly not on the playing side.
I’m not for a second suggesting that Waddock was the answer, but I’m guessing he did have a plan for the season and had that not worked, and we’d opened with four defeats, then the decision about his tenure would have been an easy one, given his performance at the end of last year.
Ashton pleaded for time; but the first shot in anger, the appointment of Appleton, showed that time wasn’t a key consideration. Waddock was gone within hours of them taking over. But what they replaced it with was a void rather than a another, better, manager.
Appleton may still come good once he’s found his feet and Ashton has found his phone book and chequebook amongst the packing boxes in his office. Will Hoskins is an interesting signing, which could be the game-changer, but also could be another Peter Leven. In the meantime we’re relying on passion, talent, hope and other immeasurables.
It’s probably fair to say that we’re not far off; each game to date has been lost by the odd goal to teams who are currently first, second and fourth, but we’re relying on the law of averages to pick up points; currently we’re slightly on the wrong side of average, presumably over the season we’ll come out on the right side. But, by that token, ultimately, we’ll end up average.
The concern, of course, is that this isn’t a concern to Eales and Ashton because buying into the club is just the latest move in a big land deal. And that for them this isn’t a results game. Promotion, relegation or mid table doesn’t impact the value of the land they’re hoping to acquire, so why invest? It’s possible that Appleton is a stooge; he seems a reasonable chap who is probably happy to have any job given where he’s been previously. Plus, he is wealthy enough not to work. Unlike, say, Wilder or Atkins, who needed to be successful to pay the mortgage, Appleton may just be the passive front man Eales and Ashton need. It would explain why Waddock was ousted so quickly.
I should say, that I’m not convinced the real story is quite so linear. I doubt anyone wants to fail, presumably the duo want to impress the masses (and I mean masses) of people who now occupy the executive box at home games. However, I can see that in a world of competing priorities; some things are more important than others. If Eales is going to spend, say, £100,000 – there’s a far greater, and more certain, return on investment paying for legal fees on a land purchase than on a 27 year old, fit, proven goalscorer. It probably wouldn’t be a one-or-other option; but if his resources are limited, it seems to me that the allocation is likely to go on the land deal, not the player.
As an aside, I like Danny Hylton more than I thought I would; stuck amongst Wilderian players and Appletonians, it seemed he was destined to become the Sansa Stark* of the club; stuck between the houses of former and emerging kingdoms while being part of neither. But, he ran himself ragged on Saturday and seems to have thrown himself at the challenge like no one else.
I feel for Morris; he seems keen to get on the ball, with players preferring to pass rather than put the ball in places for him to attack, he keeps dropping deep and out of position. At one point in the first half, the pattern of play suddenly presented itself with an opportunity. A quick cross to the edge of the box, where a gap had opened up, and Morris would have been in. Then I realised that Morris was the man on the ball and the space in the box was the result of him not being there. Another time he was tussling with Portsmouth’s deep lying midfielders leaving the back four as an untroubled final defence.
On the hour, Morris suddenly seemed to be going backwards. He’s a hulk of a player, but nearly a decade from his physical prime, spending an hour dropping deep and looking for the ball had taken its toll. At that point the game became a war of attrition, and it was likely to be a survival of the fittest. Experience will eventually teach him to take his time, but it would also be nice to think that his habit of looking for the ball might be coached out of him.
Neither side really looked like they were going to win it at that point. Both teams were likely to get a chance or two, less through talent, more by virtue of the fact that eventually the ball is going to end up near one or the other goal. They bundled in their chance and Junior Brown headed ours over the Oxford Mail stand. As I say, we’re relying on the law of averages. At some point Eales and Ashton need to tip the odds more in Appleton’s favour; this week’s activities are likely to be telling.
* A character from Game of Thrones whose family is all but wiped out by a powerful, ruling, family during a bitter civil war. By this time she is promised to marry the king; a member of her family’s killers. A deal she is unable, now on her own, to renege on. She subsequently finds herself neither a member of her own family – all of whom are dead or on the run – nor that of that which she is expected to marry into. Like Danny Hylton.
The signing of Danny Hylton has been met with a degree of derision by many of the Oxford faithful. In a sense it was always going to be; the building tension that has resulted from a lack of apparent transfer activity was never likely to be sated by the signing of anyone but a genuine name in the Duberry, Kitson mould.
To most Hylton is another generic lower league striker, his recent goalscoring record is unremarkable and he seems to be trading off a reasonable run with Aldershot where he was managed by Gary Waddock. He’s also ‘replacing’ James Constable, and on that front he’s on a hiding to nothing. The other factor is that Hylton is or was a racist.
For some Oxford fans, this is the continuation of the club’s amoral approach to its playing staff. Adam Chapman and Luke McCormick both played for the club having being convicted and serving time for death by dangerous driving. Some tried to demonstrate the club’s ‘shame’ in that we have also had an owner who made millions as a ‘slum landlord’, another who stole millions from a pension fund and a manager who had a conviction for having sex with a child. These all pre-date the current regime and can’t be considered relevant, although some think they are.
It doesn’t look good and Hylton’s signing doesn’t do much to dispel the perception that the club is morally corrupt.
In the, cough, black and white world the media like to paint, racism is racism, people who racially abuse are racists, and really that’s it. It largely ignores the fact that sometimes people make mistakes and sometimes people don’t make mistakes, but learn from bad experiences (recognising that also sometimes people don’t make mistakes and are genuinely racist). In the world of the media, this is way too difficult to squeeze into a headline; a racist is a racist.
Back to Suarez. The people who really came out of the Suarez affair with most damage were Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool hierarchy. Both came out in support of the Uruguayan. The team even wore t-shirts supporting him.
These actions were met with derision; the club had lost all sense of morality, the players too. Nobody, however, questioned why they might choose to take the stance. If you’re cynical, then you might justifiably argue that Suarez represented such a prize asset for the club that for the sake of money and results, they put their moral compass aside. But that’s still a big risk for any club there are few sponsors benefit from their association with a club who appears to support racism.
It doesn’t really explain the players’ support for him either. Yes, perhaps they saw his value to the team, but do they really want to be seen to be supportive of a racist? Unless you’re absolutely sure that injustice is being done, then the better stance would surely to maintain a dignified distance from the whole affair, not parade around so publicly. I don’t think their support came from self-interest; I think they genuinely believed in his defence.
One of Suarez’s defences was around the cultural interpretation of the word ‘negro’, which is not considered such an offensive term in Uruguay. You don’t need to travel far to understand the problem of separating words and context. When NWA put Niggaz With Attitude on the front of their album cover, they’re beatified as counter cultural terrorists fighting the corporate man. If I put Niggaz with Attitude on the front of my album, I’d have been called a racist. If I had an album, that is.
The reality was that the context was not relevant to the Suarez case. The FA are pretty clear on this; if you say a racist term, that’s it, the context is not relevant. Interestingly in Law, the context is considered to be relevant. That’s why John Terry was banned by the FA, but not jailed by the judiciary for the same offence.
Hylton’s ban needs to consider in its context. The rule he broke was to say racist words; his intent wasn’t relevant. The FA also had to be consistent with the Suarez case (both received the same ban). The ban was sufficiently stern to send out a message to others that this won’t be tolerated. And quite right to. But once that message and ban has been delivered, then it’s time to learn and move on.
So is Hylton a racist? No, well, not today. And probably not yesterday. There’s a short blog post on an Aldershot website which describes Hylton as a nice guy. I like to think this he is. I like to think he made a mistake. I like to think that his ban was proportionate to his crime and that now he’s served that ban that his slate is clean. If he commits a more serious crime, then he similarly should be subjected to a more serious censure.
If he were caught being racist under an Oxford contract, then he should be subjected to whatever disciplinary processes are in place at the club – and it would help to understand what they are. To be honest, I’m not that bothered what they are, but it might help if the club could explain their policy towards this sort of thing to give fans something official to debate around. Do fans want the club to take an ultra-moral approach and only sign players who have an entirely clean slate? This will narrow our options and reduce the likelihood of success.
The point is that neither the media nor the fans should act as a kangaroo court for these players. It is a painfully reductive way forward, the marginalising of people who, perhaps, did a bad thing, but ultimately made a mistake.
In the end, there is no real value in all this handwringing, I sense the club, or at least the fans, are beginning to consume themselves in angst. And what value does that have?