Yellows 4 Ebbsfleet 2

I got back to the car yesterday’s 4-2 win over Ebbsfleet to find all hell had broken loose on the radio. It seems there’s quite a lot of fuss over a short corner. Like someone being stabbed for questioning whether the shot putt is part of the decathlon.

To summarise. Wilder hates the ‘boo-boys’ and the Milk Cup, the Oxford Mail Stand hate the toffs in the South Stand who, in turn, hate the bumpkins in the Oxford Mail Stand. Nobody seems to hate the North Stand. Which makes them Switzerland.

In reality, the booing was a bit half-hearted, probably because we had a two-goal cushion and a man on a hat-trick; it wasn’t vitriolic. The post-game reaction was overwhelmingly one of warm, appreciative applause. It wasn’t primal screams of pleasure, but few teams will push us to that at home this season. Furthermore, not everyone in the South Stand is a toff with a blanket on their lap. Nor is the Oxford Mail stand full of bumpkins who sing in unison for 90 minutes and support the team unflinchingly. The North Stand, on the other hand, are all racists. Each and every one of them.

Perhaps there was a little more to it; despite never looking like we were going to struggle, it was clearly a battle. Perry injured himself within a couple of minutes of the start, and we ended with a back-four of which only Creighton was a regular playing in position. It seemed odd that neither Foster nor Deering even made the bench whilst Creighton and Perry seemed a bit touchy with each other. At half time there was an uncharacteristic huddle that Perry refused to join. Has something been said? Maybe this week has been a tricky one behind the scenes, which might be why Wilder was frustrated.

So, was he doing a Clough or a Keegan? Will we be the first team to blow a championship because of a short corner? History will tell us, I guess. Maybe they’ll show These Are The Days Of Our (non-league) Lives on SKY in 20 years time. If they do, I suspect Alfie Potter will bounce around on the settee, telling us how much fun it all was, such is the joi d’vivre with which he plays. Sadly his brilliant performance yesterday was totally overshadowed.

Ebbsfleet 0 Yellows 2

How Oxford loves its wingers, it’s one of the unimaginative witterings recurring themes of this blog. If Newcastle love their centre forwards, Arsenal their centre backs, Manchester United their creative midfielders, for Oxford it’s always been about wing play.

Jamie Cook has been part of a great dynasty of wingers at the club. He’s now a returning legend and, by the accounts of our 2-0 win over Ebbsfleet, could be the final piece in an already pretty complete jigsaw puzzle.

Like your first James Bond or Dr Who, your first Oxford winger holds a special place in your heart. I do remember Mark Jones mournfully rubbing his shin in front of the Osler Road Stand once upon a time, but for me, it was Chicken George Lawrence who truly heralded the era in.

George was big, black and instinctive. Under the fabled Manor Ground floodlights his thighs, dripping with Deep Heat, shone like beacons. His shorts, a tight fit for a six year old, struggled to contain him. He was all raw energy. Around him were mercurial ball players; Andy Thomas and, in particular, Kevin Brock who carved out chances. Lawrence was more about shock and awe.

I felt like a mother waving her son off to cub camp when Brock became an England Under-21. I worried he wouldn’t get on with other players and wouldn’t eat right. It was a relief to see him home, but our little secret, that Oxford did wingers like no other, was out.

As Oxford scrambled to maintain the Glory Years, Paul Simpson arrived to thrive in a failing team. Simpson’s arrival heralded a new style of winger at the club. More stocky and dynamic, somewhere in between the extremes of Lawrence and Brock.

From Simpson spawned Joseph Daniel Beauchamp, a local boy with prodigious talent. He didn’t seem capable of surviving without the club, even when the club needed him to leave to survive. His rabbit punching celebration in front of Swindon fans in ’96 summed him up perfectly; brilliant, but stifled. When, later that season, he scored against Blackpool, the world stood still, it literally stood still.

Fleetingly he was joined on the opposite wing by Chrissy Allen whose ego eventually got the better of him. Allen was more a George Lawrence than a Joey. Mark Angel and Paul Powell followed and were more cast in the classic role, Angel was little more than a Joey stand-in and for a period Powell was the best player outside the top division and destined for the England squad.

Jamie Cook took over what was a becoming withering legacy. Right man in the wrong place, like Sam Ricketts, we just didn’t know what we had under our noses. Dean Whitehead and Chris Hackett threatened to maintain the magic; although Whitehead was quickly proven to be more effective in the middle than on the flank and Hackett flattered to deceive.

A whole range of Johnny come-lightlies have tried to reignite the legacy – Courtney Pitt, Craig Nelthorpe, Lewis Haldane and now Alfie Potter have innocently accepted the baton only to find it too hot.

Our demise has coincided with the death of the winger. All the greats eventually move into the middle. Frequently I scream ‘byline’ as someone marauds down a flank only to cut inside to shoot or float over an aimless cross. It just doesn’t seem to be the modern way; perhaps its time to find something new to love.

Salisbury 2 Yellows 1, Yellows 5 Ebbsfleet 1

My daughter was born on the 6th May 2006 at about 9.50am. Significant enough for me but it should be a significant date for you too. That was the day we were relegated from the Football League. At her mother’s suggestion, I made both events, which made it a pretty mind-scrambling day.

This Christmas Baby-Girl Oxblogger got her first Oxford kit. She looks ace, it comes with yellow shorts which I was pretty excited about – it seems they only to make them for the first team and toddlers. Unless the toddlers’ shorts are just left-overs from Sam Deering’s match kit.

As an aside, I don’t think the Sam Deering is “a racist” as it would suggest that he’s put some thought into the issue and adopted a considered position. I think he’s probably just a dimwit. Even the best footballers in the world are capable of getting themselves arrested when they might do well to lounge around safely in their multi-million pound mansions. Ultimately, I suspect that Deering’s dimwittedness is a contributing factor in him playing football in the Conference. I’m a firm believer in natural law and so a fine and warning should be adequate for now. If there’s something more serious afoot, he’ll be found out eventually.

The fact that you can only get yellow shorts for the first team and babies is probably a subtle joke about our away form from Carlotti. So it was proved on Boxing Day with our abject defeat to Salisbury. They were always going to be a dangerous opponents – financially crippled, losing players, losing games, generally in crisis. As we’ve proved time and again, we can’t cope with teams like that.

Then it all changed round with the 5-1 win against Ebbsfleet. Admittedly we’re in good form at home and they were abysmal, so it’s easy to get carried away, but if Wilder has had time to influence our play it was in the fact we were more compact than we have been. The defence played a high line so everyone was supported a good start for Wilder.

Ebbsfleet United 1 Yellows 1

Ebbsfleet are a team in a crisis, an identity crisis. There’s the historical alliance of Gravesend United and Northfleet United, then the shameless re-branding to align to a town that doesn’t exist. There’s the dubious ownership model. They’re also a team with virtually no pedigree, Jimmy Bullard is probably their most famous past player and last year’s FA Trophy their biggest honour.

It’s difficult not to look at them with suspicion. As such, getting away with a draw feels like a good result.

We’re similarly anonymous. The Woking game brought it home to me; I don’t know what we’re about. I don’t mean the technicalities of tactics; but in terms of our identity, our spirit, our brand.

The Glory Years were characterised by a club punching above its weight, playing good football with wingers, finding and developing players to move on to greater things. The Atkins years we were big and ugly; nobody liked us and we didn’t like anyone else. Everything about the club subscribed to that identity.

The Merry and Smith are not dissimilar to Kassam in that they have asked the fans to sit back and enjoy the ride. Increasingly the football is a service to us as customers. However, the most successful clubs recognise the value of aligning the club with the players and the fans.

When I saw Manchester United play Sporting Lisbon last year, it was notable that the fans, like the players didn’t panic when they went a goal down. It was almost as though Sporting conceded their lead as they realised that 70,000 people were looking on them disapprovingly. Last season, Aldershot were notable in that the club and fans are one – given their history, they’re happy to watching football, they enjoy it, which breeds confidence and success. When Oxford performances don’t meet our expectations, we boo, we hate our club. It can only give the opposition more confidence.

The club need to work to reduce the distance between them and the fans. This is about presenting a clear vision of what we want to be and the role everyone plays. So, for example, we want matchdays to be a celebration – passing, expansive, attacking football on the pitch. Noise and colour off it. Then, in the club shop there are flags for sale, cheap yellow t-shirts that people can buy to bring colour to the stands. Turn players into cult heroes. Get the Oxford Mail campaigning. Create a matchday experience that breeds a winning confidence. Not one that gets bored after 20 minutes and flatly surrenders to a 0-0 draw with Woking.

Unlike Ebbsfleet, we don’t want to pick the team or buy and sell players. We don’t want to negotiate the purchase of the stadium. We want to play a part.

Ebbsfleet 1 Us 3

Two things that summed up this season:

The first, Arthur Gnohere, unchallenged in the box, inexplicably raises his arm to the ball and gives Aldershot a gifted goal. Aldershot were the team that did everything right; we were a team of compromises in a squad burdened with big wages and unable to get the likes of Gilchrist and Willmott out of the treatment room. The penalty was the only thing that differentiated us from them, but it broke our spirit and we won only four games before Christmas.

Second is playing Ebbsfleet – a team from a town that doesn’t exist owned by people who live in the Internet at 5.15 on a Saturday tea time. Wrong team, wrong time, wrong division.

We don’t belong here; and that might be the problem. Perhaps we need to get a bit more ‘Conference’ to be competitive. We need to embrace the division and its associated competitions. This way, rather than being shocked and broken by teams we perceive to be socially below us, we’ll embrace the effort needed to beat every team regardless of the state of their changing rooms.

We’re good and if we can keep the spine of Turley, Foster, Murray and Green together; we’ll compete next year. But, one thing we have to remember is, we’re not too good for this division.

Us 0 Ebbsfleet 0

A 0-0 draw against the men from the future and a perfect demonstration as to why the myfootballclub concept is flawed. It really was one for the aficionados of both clubs. Your casual Internet browser is unlikely to be motivated by such a frigid affair.

The game was probably the best opportunity yet to assess where the season is going. Ebbsfleet sit in the middle of the morass of well-organised teams in the division. To beat them would indicate that maybe we could bother the play-off positions after all, a defeat would sound some warning bells. The draw suggests the season is going nowhere.

The performance was better; the team seem to be released from the maw of fear that became a signature in the last weeks of Jim Smith’s reign. The fans, who have helped exacerbate the problem without the objectivity to realise it, were less restless and recognised the efforts and improvements. Rob Duffy’s sending off could well have been stroke of genius; his heroic early return from injury instantly put him in the good books, getting sent off offers an opportunity to complete his convalescence at the FA’s convenience. Despite the angry reaction in the stands, most post-match analysis appears to agree he deserved it.

I missed the incident because I was sat down whilst others’ around me were still standing from applauding the departed Anaclet. During the Manor days, very occasionally the Beech Road would stand to applaud a substituted player. The scarcity of such an ovation had a very special value. Now it is a Pavlovian response to a raised substitutes board. Sadly, barely anyone in the last 5 years have deserved such a response.