When David Kemp was dismissed from his own miserable reign as Oxford manager his parting shot went along the lines of “So what? They sacked me. Like that’s going make a difference.” He was alluding darkly to the shenanigans happening in the background. He was such a joyless unlikeable figure that nobody was going to side with him. The Guardian’s Fiver newsletter claimed he would never get another job in football. We agreed, smugly.
Now, Kemp is Terry Pulis’ understudy at Stoke while Brian Horton tries not to disguise his glee at being Phil Brown’s wingman at Hull. And we, well we ring our hands trying to avoid the inevitable truth that Kemp was right.
In time Darren Patterson will be remembered as one of The Many. Another manager who tried and failed. His time at Oxford is notable for his nearly-man status – he was nearly a good player, but injury reduced him to just 20 games, he nearly kept us up, but was replaced by the bull-in-a-china-shop duo of Merry and Smith. He nearly created a promotion bothering team, but had his momentum interrupted by the close season and then all his good work broken up by a financial crisis.
Patterson could well have been the right man at the wrong club and one day we may too see him telling Garth Crooks that “I’ve got to be honest with you” about some overachieving Premiership team. I hope so, because I liked him.
What comes next is more our interest, of course. We have no money and ludicrously high expectations. The league we’re in is remarkable by how poor it is. It is time to get ugly and rugged, athletic and strong. We have to get a strategy and part one of that strategy is to start winning games by any means necessary. Winning games will bring the crowds onside and that will generate money. So it’s time to quit any thoughts of purity and start bulldozering teams. Like Wimbledon… or Histon. Purists will scoff at the dismissal of artistry … but the most fun I’ve had with Oxford in the last 10 years has been under the Ian Atkins, the balls were long, the strikers were 17 stone, nothing was pretty, but we were winning games. And that’s the most important thing.
No major surprises in the elegantly named ‘retained’ list. Carl Pettefer was always a bit of an oddity; he did that Paul Scholes industriousness really well but neither Jim Smith nor Darren Patterson seemed to like him. Maybe it was wages, injuries or attitude, but something prevented him from being a more permanent member of the squad.
You always knew when Eddie Hutchinson was about to get injured because he started playing well. His eager bluster did little to disguise a lack of quality. He may have been a useful player to throw in at times of crisis, but salary meant carrying a rarely needed footballing Kate Aide was a luxury too far.
Rob Duffy, The Enigma, will no doubt be seen trotting up and down the touchline as a substitute for some aspirant promotion hopeful in the coming months – “Ooh, he scored over 20 goals for Oxford one year”. His defining moment was his one-on-one against Exeter, the moment he tamely rolled the ball into the arms of the keeper was the moment his Oxford career was effectively over.
The Danny Rose brand – Ex-Captain of Manchester United Reserves – fooled many a Kassam regular who would obliquely comment on how much we needed his ‘creativity’. The sad truth is, as small and cute as he looks, he just wasn’t up to the job.
Richards and Blackwood never looked likely to stay long. Jamie Hand was improving and one wonders whether Patterson may have another look at him if he’s still available in August. One must question just how long Chris Willmott’s contract is for. I was sure his name would eventually surface.
The biggest surprise was probably Craig McCallister; who I thought was a useful foil for speed freaks like Yemi and Matt Green. Whilst he was never going to net 20 goals a season, his ability to hold the ball up and link up with the midfield allowed us to control games much better than we did with the sauntering Duffy.
What’s more, I don’t think we’ll keep Matt Green, it feels like his gaze has gone elsewhere already and there’s a long summer and a lot of clubs looking to take a chance on a half decent striker ahead. With only the recently revitalised Yemi staying, but still not fully redeemed, we could start next season right back where we started.
I thought he’d make the week, but in the end he didn’t. The timing makes sense, we should win tomorrow and even if we don’t, then it doesn’t make a lot of difference and it’s hardly going to be the new man’s fault.
For weeks we’ve been waiting for the black smoke to billow from the Quadrangle; the inevitable announcement of Smith’s departure. He promised promotion and didn’t provide it, he promised to love us, but grumbled, mumbled and shuffled around the place. If we’d been winning, he’d have been viewed as a loveable grandfather, when we didn’t the knives came out.
There are a lot of yokels dancing around with pitchforks and flaming torches celebrating his demise. But hopefully in the writing of history, the last few months will be scrubbed and the Smith legacy will remain largely unblemished.
The messianic return against Peterborough was an adrenalin shot just when it was needed. There’s no doubt it was good for business. Even now, without his presence, there would be considerably fewer people coming through the turnstiles every week.
However, on the pitch there was something not quite right about his return. Nick Merry’s blind faith in Smith overlooked one thing; even a good manager is mostly good most of the time. There are too many factors outside his control to replicate a successful formula over and over. It would have been some sort of miracle to see him conjure up the success of the 80’s. Which means, the chances of it all ending well were slim at best.
Such is the life of the football manager – who can lose a star striker and see his career evaporate before him – that wizened old managers like Smith appear so belligerent. Most of the time they will ultimately fail. They’ve got to believe in their own abilities because they know results don’t always reflect effort.
Although the press statements suggest he’s moving upstairs. Reading between the lines, it sounds like he’s gone. His contribution shouldn’t be underestimated, but its time to move on. Over to you Darren, let’s see what you can do.