George Lawrence’s Shorts: Watch us wreck the mic, Sykes!

Sunday August 23 2020

Jedward orphan Mark Sykes has smeared his face in camo and crawled through barbed wire to get to a safe house declaring that he now wants to switch from Northern Ireland to the Republic for their forthcoming Nations League games. Bloody asylum seekers.

Elsewhere, spellcheck’s Fiarce Kelleher, who signed in a vacuum between MApp and PClot and played less games than Jeremy Balmy and George Rasulo, may feel he missed his moment at Oxford. Finally, he’s made the big time, headlining the Oxford Mail… because he’s been made redundant by Macclesfield Town

Monday August 24 2020

Well, this is awkward. While Sykes nervously eats cold beans in a ramshackle outhouse, glancing at the shadows dancing in the half-light, he’s been overlooked for the Republic squad while Joel Cooper has been called up for Northern Ireland.

Tuesday August 25 2020

Oxford went down 2-1 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in a friendly. The visitors silenced the home seats with the opener from Matty Taylor. Jack Stevens saved a penalty back-pass early in the second half before conceding two quick goals. 

At Shrewsbury, chisel jawed Sam Ricketts has gone all Trumpian, sacking his assistant manager and promoting his brother from another angular faced mother, Dean Whitehead. Ricketts is confident that the two will work well together; or tessellate, if you will.  

If there’s one thing GLS has missed more than a bucket of woo woo at Shaggers Bar in Torremolinos, it’s speculation that KRob wants to add another midfielder to his endless collection. So, it’s heartwarming to see that Rochdale’s Ollie Rathbone has been linked with a move to the club. Premier League giants Sunderland are interested, along with Fleetwood. Manager Joey Barton is said to be ‘punch in your face and charged with common assault’ excited by the prospect. 

Wednesday August 26 August 2020

Accrington Stanley (who are they?) have targeted the 1980s Milk Marketing Board Derby against Oxford on September 26 to trial allowing fans to attend the game. The game will be limited to 700 home fans, representing Accrington’s record attendance.  

Meanwhile sharpshooters the EFL have discovered a brand new technology called The Internet, which will stream all EFL matches via its iFollow service. We’re no technology experts, but as far as we can work out this is rather like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with an ear bud. 

Thursday 27 August 2020

He’s ginger, he’s a whinger, he used to choose when he was injured; Dave Kitson has been shouting from the tall tower he looks down on everyone from reflecting on how he propelled Chris Wilder to greatness. His failed time at Sheffield United resulted in manager Danny Wilson getting fired, then his failed time at Oxford saw Chris Wilder getting fired, which resulted in Wilder managing Sheffield United. The rest is history; you are welcome, Chris, says Dave.

Elsewhere, Tony McMahon, The 2018 Phil Edwards, has gone a bit Martin Gray and signed for Darlington.

Friday 28 August 2020

Fantasy Football League phenom, John Lundstram, is centre of a catfight between West Ham and Steven Gerrard’s quest to create McOxford by joining Kemar Roofe at Rangers. George Waring is packing a suitcase full of Tennants Super in preparation for a call.

Saturday 29 August 2020

Oxford’s first home friendly resulted in a 1-0 over QPR with a goal from Matty Taylor. The game evoked memories of the Milk Cup Final; apart from the fans, prestige or Ken Fish looking like an army physical training instructor from the 1950s. The real drama was on the sidelines where sulky sixth former Rob Dickie didn’t even make the squad, which led to anti-maskers, anti-vaxers and conspiracy theorists to conclude it was because Bill Gates has put nano bots in the 5G network to prevent promising central defenders play friendly games of football. I mean, it makes you think, doesn’t it, the MSM don’t report that do they?

George Lawrences Shorts – A-Fosu-lytptic Shandogeddon

Saturday 25 January 2020

Like a pair of British Knights high tops, Sports Direct’s Newcastle United were cheap and lacking in style on Saturday as Oxford came home with a lucrative replay in their locker after a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup.

Sunday 26 January 2020

Our draw with Newcastle asked a lot of questions of the Premier League team, none more so than the performance of Miguel Almiron(’s wife). The Star analysed Alexia Notto’s 17-second Instragram video of her swaying vacantly like a psychologically damaged captive chimpanzee in a Chinese zoo. The ‘trained Zumba dancer’ ‘flaunted’ her ‘moves’ in a way her husband didn’t at St James’ Park.

Monday 27 January 2020

It was fumbling velvet ball-bag Monday for the FA Cup draw, or as it has become known on Twitter; ‘Shitdraw’. We now face the prospect of a trip to West Brom.

Having had shitdraws against teams in all top five divisions this season, including the champions of England, our analysis shows the only draws now acceptable to fans would be the 1970 Brazilian World Cup squad or the blue team from the animated section of the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Following such great sitcoms as Are You Being Served? And Ever Decreasing Circles, Oxford’s FA Cup replay with Newcastle will be shown live on BBC1.

The game will be the club’s first meaningful contribution to national prime-time public service sports broadcasting since 2003 when Jefferson Louis was seen dancing naked on live daytime Sunday TV. Prudish TV censors will be watching Jamie Mackie with interest.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Alumni news, as Scuttling Joe Rothwell was lavished with praise at Blackburn for his two assists in Blackburn’s win over Middlesborough. Rovers manager Tony Mowbray acknowledged that Rothwell has had to adjust to life in the Championship having, apparently, been such a star at Oxford that players deferentially passed to him in awe at what he could achieve. Yes, that’s how we remember it too, Tone.

Thursday 30 January 2020

It was the Radio Oxford Nine Minute Fifty Eight Second Fans ForAAAARRRGGHHHH! On Thursday as Niall don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWiliams’ plan to spend the interview equivalent of nine hours at the crease scoring 16 runs with immaculately executed forward defensive shots was blown to pieces.

Instead, he was accompanied by all-action KRob, in full Kate Adie mode, with news that Shandon The Baptise and The Stepover Kid Tariqe Fosu were having medicals with an unknown club. This breaking news somewhat marginalised the carefully crafted and no less important question about the cleanliness of the toilets.

Friday 31 January 2020

With the Coronavirus spreading faster than chlamydia during peak season in Blackpool, we face er, Blackpool tomorrow. Having dropped to eighth in the table, Oxford will be without Fosu and Baptiste whose transfer to Brentford was eventually confirmed. There was some hope that impotent burns victim Will Grigg might come in but transfer window closed with KRob left empty handed meaning Headington United’s Sam Long will have his longest spell in the team since the Southern League.

Elsewhere, pompous Titian haired beanpole Dave Kitson is interested in becoming the Secret Head Coach at Cambridge. His next book, ‘The Secret Early Reducer, Hoof It Up To The Big Man, Second Ball, SECOND BALL‘, comes out next year.

Farewell Dave Kitson, you very strange chap

In many ways, Dave Kitson at Oxford made more sense to Dave Kitson than it did to Oxford United. Signed during the First Summer of Austerity, Kitson didn’t fit Ian Lenagan’s vision of a squad of young players with the robustness to last a whole season of League 2 action.

For Kitson, on the otherhand, there was the opportunity to add a couple of years to his dwindling career in an area close to where he lived. He was still being paid an obscene amount of money by Portsmouth although his (alleged) book suggests that, due to excessive spending and some poor financial planning, he wasn’t necessarily as cash-rich as many would have perceived. Above all, in Oxford he had an environment that, to a certain extent, meant that he could still play out his big-time footballer fantasies.

But, as we’ve seen time and again, when once big-time players end up at Oxford there’s usually a good reason for it. The pattern; as seen with the likes of Gilchrist or Duberry, is that you typically get a good first season and a second season blighted by injury as the player finally falls apart. With Kitson, his first season was more like a second season and he didn’t even get to his second season announcing his retirement after a couple of sprints up sand dunes or whatever it is they do for pre-season nowadays.

As fleeting moments of genius go, Kitson barely registered on the Leven Scale. For a period he seemed to be the key to unlocking goals for James Constable who was his willing workhorse up front, but the odd threaded through-ball and masterful take-down aside he generally seemed to dally around the field in vague disgust at the inferiority happening around him.

There was something not quite right about Kitson. Perhaps it was that he was a square peg in a round hole; one of the lads, but the one with all the best stories and the best Ford Mondeo – or whatever it is footballers drive nowadays. Perhaps it was the opaque insight we had into his life and views as The Secret Footballer. Perhaps it was that he did genuinely seem to come across as a footballer like no other in terms of erudition and intelligence.

But, there was something else. His disciplinary record was atrocious; particularly for an experienced player who had played at the top level. It revealed a strangely narcissistic streak where he was prepared to aggressively criticise the officials as the ‘worst ever’ – demonstrating almost a perverse desire to deliberately get into trouble with the authorities. Perhaps he was the only player in League 2 whose comments would register with the FA, and that’s what he liked.

Even more darkly, and perhaps this is just a sign of the times, there was something even more cynical in what he did. He seemed to draw bookings or injuries almost, it appeared, deliberately, as if he just wanted to give himself the week off. Even worse, one particular incident – inexplicably conceding of a penalty against Plymouth – an act so oddly deliberately and his protest so strangely contrived made me, for the first time ever, question a player’s integrity. Perhaps it was just the toll of injuries meant that he just couldn’t do it anymore, perhaps (as suggested in the book) it was his mental state. This seems most likely to me, but perhaps it was something else.

He just never really seemed that committed, in a team that needed direction, experience and a bit of class, he drifted in and out at will. When he was on his game it looked like he was the key to unlocking success, but for much of the time it was like he was just mucking around.

How will Kitson be remembered? Well, he probably won’t, in truth. He’ll be filed alongside people like Colin Todd and Steve Perryman, former Oxford players who will forever be associated with  things than us. In the short term he leaves us with a gap in class and just a couple of weeks to fill it – thanks Dave.

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.

The value of Kitson?

We’re back on track, promotion is on and it’s all down to Dave Kitson, isn’t it? But, can he keep his head and body together long enough to propel us up the division?

I’ve a lot of sympathy for Gary Waddock, when he applied for the Oxford job he was potentially taking over a team in the unusual position of seeking a new manager while actually being on the up. The squad, he might reasonably have assumed, would be an easy one to take over. They are experienced; they would be focussed and in the groove, he could steer them to the play-offs or promotion; tweak for next season and move forward. It was almost the dream job.

Then, he takes over a club with an entirely different set of characteristics. One in free fall; the challenge suddenly shifting focus entirely. A team not on the up, but on the down, players seemingly incapable of stringing two passes together. Confidence fast evaporating and the idea of shots on target becoming more baffling than the conceptualisation of a new branch of theoretical physics.

Granted, this is a more normal position for a new boss to come into; the previous manager has usually been fired because the team has not been performing. The new broom cannot fail to have some kind of positive impact, so he has very little to lose in his first few weeks and months. So was Waddock taking over a successful team that needed a tweak or a failing team that needs an overhaul? The fans can’t even decide that despite having watched this team for 7 months, why should it be easier for him given that he’s only had three weeks?

Last week after the Fleetwood game Waddock was asked why he doesn’t start with James Constable. There’s been an understandable sense of apoplexy in his preference for Dean Smalley. Waddock said it was because he wasn’t showing in training. The implication is laziness, but it’s probably much more marginal than that. What else has Waddock got to use to assess his team? Before Saturday, Constable hadn’t scored for nearly 2 months and not in a winning team since mid-December. A timespan where Dean Smalley has scored twice in winning teams.

Waddock should have enough experience to know that, at this level, there are an awful lot of solid competent and reliable players and the difference between one club and another is the availability of one bit of class. What he must have struggled with was is where our dose of class had come from.

The answer to that question, is not James Constable, while there might appear to be a chasm of difference in attitude by Constable and Smalley, objectively there is not much difference in performance. The man who has made us tick is Dave Kitson.

I actually thought we’d seen the last of Kitson, he is a precarious balance of form, fitness and mental state, especially if his terrible books are anything to go by. I think it’s quite likely that depression is an issue, as the books suggest, but even if not, then his disciplinary record is significantly more awful than his writing. Especially if you consider he’s an experienced player with Premier League pedigree. Compare him to, say, Michael Duberry who was able to get away with all sorts of things due to his presence and experience, Kitson’s inability to manage a game is even more remarkable. He might write it off as ‘passion’, but you’d hope that he might, at some point, step back and think that whatever the injustices of it all are, it’s not working with referees.

Fitness and form are also significant factors; the former probably informing the latter. 34 isn’t that old; you might expect a Premier League player to hold his own in League 2 that late into his career. Natural wear and tear, and a slowing of pace, should be compensated by experience and core talent. The big risk with these players is how quickly they degenerate when they do get injured (Phil Gilchrist is another classic examples). Kitson seems to be right on the brink of that precipice, he’s a class above but a leg strain from retirement. I can’t see him being at the club next season, but if he was I doubt he’ll be playing much.

But, when Kitson is fit, and playing well, and has the right attitude he is amongst the best in the division and that does two things to the rest of the team; it take pressure off the back four because he gives the midfield he plays slightly in front of space to play offensively and protect defensively. More importantly, he give Constable a platform to work from. By Kitson holding up the play and acting as a target man, Constable benefits from the freedom this gives rather than having to do the job himself.

I’m cautious about assuming that the revival is on after the win at Plymouth, we’ve yet to deal with the pressure and expectation that comes from playing at home. And everything about the York game on Friday suggests that anticipation will be ramped up to 10 now we know that a promotion push is possible. There’s the possibility of a larger than usual holiday crowd and a win will almost certainly put York to the sword in terms of play-off rivals. It won’t just be Kitson’s ability that will hold the key, it’ll be the temperament of those around him too.