Hull manager Grant McCann was impressed by his team’s performance yesterday. “We’ve shown a real calmness and maturity … they play in a certain way, which is difficult to play against at times” said McCann. That ‘certain way’ being the equivalent of a mad scramble when you put your foot on something wet in a children’s ball pool. Hull look in good shape for promotion; if anyone can, Grant McCann can.
KRob said he wants to take the handbrake off for the rest of the season, begging the question why we’ve had the handbrake on for most of this season’s journey. Surprisingly, the new philosophy didn’t plunge us into a ravine as we ran Doncaster ragged with a three goal mauling at The Kassam.
The appliance of sports science, that’s the KRob way. Rotating his squad has been the key to a return to form in recent weeks. “Something we did on Saturday might not impact the team until next weekend.” said KRob sounding like your gran when she’s trying to describe her last proper bowel movement “Something we did two weeks ago might have had an impact on Tuesday.”
Friday 19 March 2021
Rumours are swirling around that the club is about to be taken over by an Indonesian consortium. Any foreign ownership brings fears of reputation washing, money laundering and illicit betting scams, but Oxford are big news in Indonesia. People still talk of the Rob Duffy Riots in Jarkarta after the 2007 Conference Play-Off failure and it’s a little known fact that Tom Newey and David Hunt are now the Indonesian equivalent of Ant and Dec. “Saya seorang selebriti, keluarkan saya dari sini!!!” as they say.
Because I’m vindictive I listened to the Swindon Town podcast Loathed Strangers after our win on Tuesday. They liked one of my post-match tweets, which made me think that they were probably self-deprecating enough to be a decent listen. At least, for one week.
It’s fair to say, they took the defeat badly. Not necessarily because of the result; they lost by a goal and missed a penalty, but because of what it stood for. I hadn’t realised what a mess they’re in; their goalscorer Taylor Curran appears to only be playing because his dad is paying the wages, Tommy Wright, their assistant manager, has been convicted bribery and had a huge meltdown in their post-match interview, John Sheridan refused to be interviewed, the local newspaper say they’ve been banned from asking questions at press conferences, something the club deny. Two substitutes were pulled apart in their game preceding ours. There’s a bizarre case of who owns the club and whether it was accidentally sold to the wrong person – Gareth Barry no less – breaking FA rules in the process. On Tuesday, John Sheridan substituted both centre-backs, including the team captain, and replaced them with inexperienced replacements, yesterday he made a quintuplet substitution against Gillingham, almost as if he was deliberately sabotaging their chances.
I almost feel sorry for them. Any one of those would have been a bit of a laugh, but the combination just makes the situation a bit sad. It was definitely more fun beating Paolo DiCanio’s Swindon with half a team after they’d been on a long unbeaten run than this shadow of their former selves.
Most of this was known before the game, but the result drew it all into sharp relief. The recording was punctuated with loud groans and strains of frustration, as if they’d run out of words to describe how they’re feeling.
It helps me to realise that we too over-interpreted the actual result. That’s only natural, it’s a rivalry and the objective is to win to prove, whatever it is these things are supposed to prove. But, in terms of two football teams, anything other than a win against such a poor team would have been a disappointment.
The game against Hull City was always going to be a better measure of where we are. We’re now one win in seven, albeit off a streak of one loss in eleven, of which the other ten were wins. With streaks like that, it’s difficult to say whether we’re really good with some periods of bad luck, really bad with some periods of good luck or just inconsistent.
When the season ended early last year, the points per game calculation illustrated just how narrow a margin there is between success and failure. Peterborough missed out on a play-off place by 0.02 of a point per game. Even the difference between us and Hull City – between first and ninth – is 0.37 points per game, a third of a draw, if that can be a conceivable thing. The point being, the margins on any given day remain small, you have to play a lot of football to meaningfully separate out the good teams from the bad.
It showed against Hull, we didn’t play badly, we had a couple of chances early on and tired in the second-half, they had a little bit more quality and were able to maintain it for longer. They edged both halves, which the score reflected. The margin was not huge over ninety minutes and on other days we might have drawn or even snatched a win, but it’s obvious if we played them every week for a season, the difference would have been significant.
We are, it’s reasonable to say, exactly where we deserve to be; a slightly above average League 1 team. We have the ability to beat the teams above us on any given day, but we need a few things to go our way in terms of injuries, form, conditions and so on. To make it beyond where we are across a whole season, we need a lot to go our way – for example, an early ending of the season off the back of a five game winning streak.
It’s difficult to have many complaints, look at the table, and it’s difficult to see who we would expect to be ahead of. Lincoln City is the exception, they are having one of those seasons where a combination of good management and a bit of luck is seeing them riding high, for now. They seem to be wobbling, I can see them falling at the play-offs and then next season, being mid-table. Other than that, the teams above us are all clubs we’d aspire to be like.
Finding that extra something will be a challenge – in the next couple of years we could see quite a financial reckoning hit clubs, providing a gap for us to exploit. It’s a bit cynical to say that the pandemic could work our way but that’s what happened in the 1980s – lots of the bigger teams were hit with financial problems off the back of some deep recessions which meant they couldn’t maintain the gap they once had, we had a steady investment, creating an environment which allowed us, Luton and Wimbledon to all thrive. You might see something similar in the next few years. Probably not at Premier League level as it was back then, but certainly in the Championship there are quite a few teams ready to implode giving better run clubs a chance.
But, if that doesn’t materialise, then we will either need to invest even more or sustain our position in the hope we’ll eventually hit a purple patch. Overall, I think we are making gradual progress, which is the main thing, we seem more comfortable playing teams like Hull, even if we aren’t beating them, and we appear more at home at the top end of the table whereas in the past it felt like we were breaking our backs just to sustain our position. There may still be some life in the season for us, but if we do end up where we currently are, I’d be quite content. At least we’re not going through what Swindon are.
It was a momentous day on Saturday as fans were finally allowed back into the stadium for the visit of Hull City. The fans were buoyed by a decent performance against the top of the table Tigers, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Plenty of precautions were taken to ensure supporters were safe, they were asked to take their own food and drink, wear masks and maintain at least two metres distance or ‘touch tight’ as our defence call it.
Monday 7 December 2020
Vegan sandal wearing Extinction Rebels Forest Green Rovers visit the Kassam on Tuesday for a lactose free Veggie Supreme Papa John Pizza Trophy game. History is set to be made with a local Oxford schoolboy added to the home squad. GLS asked Big Janet from the papershop to the game on a date. Unfortunately when he said, with a knowing smile, ‘You never know, Gatlin O’Donkor could make his debut’ she looked alarmed, called him a pervert and kneed him in the groin.
It was the Six Minute Fifty-Seven Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with Niall, don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWilliams. And. It. Kicked. Off. McWilliams confirmed rumours that corporate sponsors and members of the 1893 Club will get tickets for all three upcoming games in recognition for their premium priced season ticket. Fans didn’t like it, calling it favouritism. That’s not fair, the 1896 Club show admirable dedication to the club by paying £600 to listen to Peter Rhodes-Brown interviewing returning legends like Jon Ashton and Ricky Sappleton while drinking weak tea and eating garibaldi biscuits.
Friday 11 December 2020
There’ll be no Kiss Me Quick hats, donkey rides or itchy rashes for Oxford fans this year as the team travel to the Chlamydia Capital Blackpool on Saturday. Goalkeeper Chris Maxwell is a lazy sod; “I take pride in doing nothing in the game. If I do nothing in a game, I’m happier than when I save 10 shots and still keep a clean sheet.” Now that’s one Christmas present, we’re sure we can help with.
We all know stories should have a beginning, middle and an end, but they also follow a common pattern of symmetry/asymmetry/symmetry. A great story will begin with a period of stability; of normality, a sense of what is about to be lost by what’s to come. There will then be asymmetry or instability, a disruption, something ultimately to be resolved. The characters then work to re-find symmetry or stability before the story closes.
It’s such a compelling structure, we seek it in real life. Take the pandemic, we’re looking for something to switch it off, to re-establish stability. There’s a fantasy that a vaccine will be discovered and in no time at all people would be returning to their normal, perhaps better, lives. That’s what would happen in a film, there’d be no ongoing post-trauma, no gradual resolution, no long term repercussions or rebuilding.
Our own stability was ended on the 13th March when professional football effectively enforced the government into action against the growing threat of coronavirus by postponing all fixtures. You know when something as attention seeking as football seeks to hide away that something is up. I remember The Fence End Podcast talking about focussing on that feeling when things would be resolved and we’d all be back in the stadium. I thought that too, when the pandemic’s over, the doors would be flung open and we’d flood in. Imagine what that day might feel like.
But, pandemics don’t work like that, we won’t have our coronavirus VE-Day celebration. It won’t end just like that – even the war didn’t end just like that, though that’s how it’s characterised, it took three months between VE Day and the surrender of the Japanese. Then there were decades of rebuilding. We’re still dealing with the aftermath now, for some English national football and Brexit is just a continuation of the war effort.
So, in real life, any return to symmetry would be messy and gradual but the first step was the announcement of fans returning to the stadium after the second lockdown. My reaction was… ‘Oh, so soon?’.
Is it Stockholm Syndrome? Have I fallen in love with my captors? My world has shrunk, I’ve done 60% less mileage than last year. Football used to be the thing that straightened me out after the week had messed me up. I valued the routine and singularity of purpose against the discord of a working week. A week ago I had a day off, it made me more anxious than a routine day working from home. My symmetry, returning to football, seemed to have become my asymmetry.
I hadn’t planned to watch the Hull game anyway, I’ve seen every league game this season, it’s chained me to my settee. Weekend routines became moulded around kick-off times, but the experience was sanitised and underwhelming. Only by consciously doing something different would I be able to break that sequence. In normal times, I would have been away during this weekend, so it seemed to make sense.
But, following the announcement, I could have re-arranged, I could have argued how important it was to go to the game. But I simply didn’t feel it. I knew that demand would outstrip supply and financially it wouldn’t make any difference, I was inconsequential and decided not to join the scramble for tickets.
I imagine if I’d been alive on VE Day, I wouldn’t have been in the streets sexually assaulting any passing filly, I’d have stayed in and watched whatever the 1945 equivalent of Come Dine With Me was.
I had flashbacks to the opening of the Kassam Stadium, that feeling of a new dawn, then getting to the ground to see it unfinished and covered in dust, my seat so low in the East Stand I could barely see what was happening. I thought we’d sell it out, but it was just over half full. The weather wasn’t even great. Then we lost because the new surroundings didn’t give us the new stability we craved, it was the same old chaos we’d left behind the previous May.
I feared going back to the stadium, buoyed by the sense of renewal and enduring a miserable defeat. It was always possible, particularly against the League leaders, and my first trip back to the stadium when it happens will still suffer that jeopardy. But, I didn’t need it, not at the moment.
I wasn’t sure I could join the chorus about what a spiritual experience it was to get back to a game. How 1,000 fans would sound like 100,000. Like telling a bride at a wedding they’re the most beautiful you’ve ever seen and that the day has been perfect, when that’s probably, objectively, not true. I mean, that’s not a time for personal critiques, it’s not about your opinion, of course you just go with it for the greater good. The person on the radio who complained that wearing a mask would steam up his glasses was the kind of person who thought the bride’s dress made he look a bit hippy.
Perhaps you went and had that very feeling of renewal and redemption, perhaps you even wanted to read something which tried to articulate that feeling. This is probably not what you were expecting.
Of course as the game approached kick-off it was nice to see the pictures being posted on Twitter of people in the ground, I felt a little bit jealous, a little bit out of the loop. Like those times when I passed up an away day only to regret not putting in the effort. I was pleased there was a goal and a good performance and the day worked out well.
But, this was something for the whole, not the individual. I will apply for tickets to our next games, my diary is clear and I want to get back. I’m just not sure I wanted that first experience to be ruined by teething problems or an abject performance. The Hull game was symbolic of a move to something else, a chapter in a much bigger story. It didn’t switch off the asymmetry and bring us to resolution. And it didn’t need me telling people that.
In the end, the point was a very good one, the logistics seemed to work well and everyone seemed happy. It should open the door to a bigger crowd next time, which is good. Our league position remains grim, but the re-connection of fans and club will hopefully act as a reminder that there is a reason to do this. This, along with a clean sheet, acts as a balm on the wounds inflicted last Saturday. The return to symmetry will be gradual, and will likely be different to the one we left behind, we may never realise when we achieve it, but that’s how real stories work.
A gross misjudgement, a calamitous last minute mistake, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. Those were just some of the comments aimed as sWInD0N tOwN who issued a commemorative t-shirt and mug on Saturday night for no apparent reason.
Meanwhile, spellcheck’s worst nightmare and former Oxford no man, Fiarce Kelleher, has been opening up about his increasingly bizarre career. After being accidentally signed while delivering pizza to Oxford United, he went to Macclesfield and was promptly made redundant. Now he finds himself at Wrexham under the charge of Hollywood superstar chancers Ryan Renolds and Rob McElhenney. The duo plan to make the Wrexham story into a redemptive Netflix tearjerker. We’re looking forward to the spin off series – ‘Kelleher’ – which critics are expecting to be like The Littlest Hobo in shin pads.
It was bitterly cold on Tuesday for the game against Ipswich Town, sensible Simon Eastwood’s mum phoned to tell him to put on his big coat and let junior Jack Stevens take over between the sticks. A new defensive unit, alongside an Ipswich attack who found it morally and ethically abhorrent to shoot, resulted in a 0-0 draw and the most welcome clean sheet since GLS’s first dry night after he got his new adult diapers.
Meanwhile, pre-season wonder Jamie Guy has lifted the lid on his so-called career. This includes how he amassed no less than three whole goals in a mere 34 games one season at Colchester and how Premier League sophisticate Čhrîßtøphë Wįłdė and Jim Smith both accidentally managed him at Oxford. Guy reckons Wįłdė could see his potential ‘I look forward to working with you.’ he said a week before letting him go back to Colchester.
I was The Nine Minute Twenty-Nine Second Fan Forum on Radio Oxford with KRob and Niall, don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWilliams. With the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of people dying every day from coronavirus related illness, one fan really got to the nub of the global crisis we’re currently engulfed in. If he has to wear a face mask at the game his glasses will steam up. McWilliams promised to look into changing the laws of thermodynamics for future games.
Then it was over to KRob, who really set about showing how much he cared and got ‘it’ after the sWiNDoN tOwN defeat with a series of short, terse, caring and getting it answers. Did he regret singling out Mark Sykes? No. Are we too good to go down? No. Will Gavin Whyte come back on loan? Let’s see. So, also no.
At 3.45 on the 29th December 1979, my life is about to change forever. Oxford United were playing Hull City, it was half-time and my dad and I were on the London Road on one our occasional trips to The Manor. It was bitterly cold and the scorching hot Scotch Broth my Granny made before we headed off to the ground was long gone. I loved football and couldn’t get enough of it, but the score was 0-0, it was so terrible, even I knew it.
My dad, knowing that I was cold, asked whether I wanted to go home. I suspect this wasn’t much to do with my welfare, more that he didn’t want to be with a whining 7 year old. I pondered; the terrace was empty; the crowd was small and most had dipped behind the stand to stock up on Bovril and chips. I thought about his offer – go home and get warm; or stay and, well, stay?
I don’t know how long I thought about it, but I eventually concluded we would stay. It was uncharacteristically resolute of me. Oxford came out in the second half kicking down the slope towards the London Road. We roared to a 3-0 win, our performance in the second half was as good as the first half was bad. I’d made the right decision. Going to football was making the right decision, as was staying to the very end and not giving up on your team. My lingering memory is of the pride of sticking with it more than any of the goals. Going to football, not just watching it on TV, was my path.
Richard’s dad was brilliant. He was big in sweets. Well, his job involved getting boxes of chocolates, which he stored in their larder. If my dad couldn’t take me to games, I’d go with Richard and his dad where he’d produce chocolate from various pockets in his coat like Willy Wonka. We’d flit around him like baby birds waiting to be fed. My dad once got his hands on a ZX81 computer and spent all night programming it to print a picture of Mickey Mouse. The printer broke down halfway through due to a bug in the programme. Working with sweets was the best.
We were resolutely Osler Road at the time, but Richard and I would occasionally venture to the wall on the corner with the London Road so we could pat Garry Barnett on the back when he took a corner. It was a sort of training ground for the London Road and for soft boys like us, it was a rough place to be. Occasionally we’d get a prime spot stood on the wall leaning against an advertising board, but mostly we’d end up being faced down by some kids from Barton or Blackbird Leys and would be chased away back to the safety of our dads. The next day we’d report back at school about being at the match and dealing with the ruffians. Nobody really believed us, but were probably quite impressed we were allowed to stay up after 9.30pm.
Nottingham Forest, 1996
It’s 1996, it’s the FA Cup and we’ve drawn Nottingham Forest. The game was postponed and then re-arranged. I fell out with a friend who claims he’s didn’t want to come after I got him a ticket. I’m irritated because of the money, but I don’t want to go alone. In the end, he feels guilty enough to come.
We get there and mill around under the stand; we’re chatting with a steward. Rather naively, my friend asks whether it’ll be a full house. He mouths ‘no’ while observing the Oxford fans suspiciously. He’s not wrong, it’s a cold night, but it’s almost as if someone forgot to tell the people of Nottingham that a game is on.
Forest are in the Premier League and have Brian Roy in their ranks. It’s like he floats, he drops his shoulder and sends the whole away end the wrong way. We’re not playing badly at all, but they’re a class above. It’s no surprise when they take the lead. It looks like we’re heading out, but nobody can be disappointed by the display. Into the last minute and we get a corner. Bobby Ford sweeps another elegant cross into the far post, Stuart Massey fearlessly crashes through a bank of players connects with the ball and grabs the equaliser. In an involuntary spasm, I leave my seat and run down the steps towards him, I’m engulfed by fans, players, stewards and policemen. A briefly make eye contact with Massey who screams in my face. I can’t stop myself, at that moment I’ve truly lost my mind.
Mickey Lewis tells a story
It’s 2004 and I’m at my sister’s wedding. Mickey Lewis is married to one of her old school friends. My mum and dad went to Lewis’ wedding, the bar was full of the great and the good of 1990s Oxford. Dave Penney was the best man. Lewis’ in-laws love him; his father-in-law came round to our house once and told a story about how when they go out to pick up a curry, Mickey would have a pint in the local pub and a bag of chips from the chippy while he waited for his takeaway. For cosseted local folk, this is an adventure beyond boundaries.
At my sister’s wedding Lewis is at the bar for most of the night holding court with a number of Oxford and Derby fans. He breaks free just once as the opening bars of Baggy Trousers comes on the disco. He gently pushes me aside as he enters the fray so that he can put in a solid 3.34 seconds of skanking.
As the evening’s celebrations draw to a close and the numbers dwindle, I’m one of a handful of stragglers left in the hotel bar. Mickey’s gravelly voice is getting worse with every passing story. One of our number is a Wycombe Wanderers fan, so I prime Mickey with a mention of our 1996 win over Wanderers at Adams Park. Suddenly, Mickey’s animated; ‘We SPANKED them, didn’t we?’ he says, ‘SPANKED THEM’. His voice echoes across the empty bar. Suddenly he’s on his feet, he grabs his chair and starts to hump it, a metaphor for the beating we gave them that day. His volume increases to the point where he wakes the wife of one of our number who comes out and puts a stop to the party – with Mickey mid-hump – dragging her husband to bed.