George Lawrence’s Shorts: Potato ROFLs

Saturday 5 October 2019

At the Wham Stadium on Saturday Tariqe Fosu proved He’s Our Man opening the goalscoring against victorian non-leaguers Accrington Stanley. Young Gun, Cameron Brannagain saw an opportunity to Go For It from 25 yards to make it 2-1 before we were pegged back to 2-2 with a low strike to the left of the goal; or was it a Different Corner? Jamie Mackie was booked for Careless Whispers with the ref.

Monday 7 October 2019

Liverpool wunderkind Ben Woodburn had a little bump playing with the big boys on Saturday. He was a very brave and didn’t cry, after a cold compress, a cuddle, a Paw Patrol plaster and twelve weeks on the sidelines and he’ll be out to play again. 

Tuesday 8 October 2019

In the MySpace.com Trophy, Oxford won through after losing in the draw against Portsmouth. The game of futility wrapped in a cloak of pointlessness, balanced on a plinth on inconsequentiality ended 2-2, with goals from Matty Taylor and Rob Dickie which left Pompey with the humiliation of having to win the penalty shoot-out and pretend it meant something.

In alopecia news; dome bonced Conference crushing pass-master Adam Murray has taken over as Barnsley manager after Daniel Stendel was sacked.  

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Weekly Scottish full-back news (that isn’t about Chris Cadden bowel movements or ice cream preferences): former loanee Todd Kane could be set to join the Scotland squad

Thursday 10 October 2019

After legitimate ice hockey fan and player Petr Chech joined Guilford Phoenix as a way of keeping fit during his retirement, Oxford City Stars announced the absolute mega-lolz and cry-face emoji news that the greatest Oxford goalscorer with a head shaped like a potato, James Constable, had signed for them. It was double ROFLs from hairdo’s worst nightmare Greig Box Turnbull who cracked the joke to acceptable apathy on Twitter a few hours before doubling down on it in a press release which was also royally ignored. As GLS knows more than most, there’s nothing funnier than a re-fried joke.

It was the Five Minute Thirty-Eight Second fans forum on Radio Oxford on Thursday with KRob. One fan asked whether we talk too much about formations before KRob talked too much about formations – inadvertently giving out his credit card PIN in the process. There was also extended chat about his sweat patches. And people think he talks too much.

Friday 11 October 2019

It’s Doncaster tomorrow and the air will be filled with a chorus of “We’re by far the 427th greatest team, the world has ever seen”. Website FiveThirtyEight – a team of crack statistical virgins – has ranked 628 teams from around the world. We were the third highest League 1 team, comfortably nestled in between Argentinians, Godoy Cruz and Sochaux of Switzerland, and 152 places ahead of Swindon, obviously. GLS doesn’t know how the rankings were done; so we looked at the methodology and realise that we don’t care.

Midweek fixture: The Absolute State of Oxford United Part 4 – Your favourite players

It feels like an age since the Absolute State of Oxford United survey went out; you can read Part 1 – Ratings, Part 2 – Predictions and Part 3 – Expectations (folded into the season’s preview). Part 4 looks at one of those perennials – favourite players.

Of the current crop, Gavin Whyte, when he was still at the club, was your overall favourite players. Now he’s gone, Cameron Brannagan takes the reigns with 18.4%. Brannagan ticks a lot of boxes for fans; he’s committed and passionate; there’s never a game where you feel he’s phoning it in. Moreover, he’s got that profile of players from Michael Appleton’s time – Lundstram, Rothwell, Ledson and Roofe – players who came to Oxford from bigger clubs looking to progress their careers. He wasn’t an Appleton player, but it feels like he was.

Next up was Josh Ruffels (16.7%) with Simon Eastwood clocking a solid 11.9%. The appeal of Eastwood and Ruffels is their longevity, their apparent commitment to the cause. Neither are homegrown as such, but it feels like they are.

I wasn’t sure whether asking the question about your least favourite player was a good idea and people agreed; it was a mistake with lots of people refused to answer. I will say one thing; it probably isn’t a surprise to hear that Jamie Hanson was identified by a large minority as a least favourite. He came in with a big fee and didn’t perform last year; but here’s a prediction for next season – I reckon if he’s given a chance, Hanson may become a fan favourite next season in the vein of Andy Whing. Everyone loves a tough tackler who wears his heart on his sleeve and if he can get a run in the team, I can see him thriving.

All time favourites

When it comes to favourite players of all time, no fewer than fifty-seven players were nominated, although I’m guessing that Juan Pablo-Raponi and Justin Richards were a joke and there were one or two nominated because they were nice to the respondents kids once outside the ground.

Thirty-one of the fifty-seven received a single vote; and there’s clearly a story behind every one.

It’s tricky to compare players of different eras and easy to conflate ‘favourite’ with ‘best’. Danny Hylton is one of my all time favourite players – but only received one vote. Paul Powell was one of the best players I ever saw and didn’t receive any. Forced into making a choice of one player, favourite always trumps best.

The votes inevitably favour more recent players – if you’re younger, they’re the only players you know, if you’re older, your memory fade.

There is very much a holy trinity that spans the eras – John Aldridge took 9% of the vote, followed by James Constable (17%) with Joey Beauchamp (20%) topping the lot. 

Beauchamp’s last game for Oxford was in 2002, but he hits the sweet spot for a favourite player – genuinely homegrown, loyal (apart from his Swindon apparition), and above all, breathtakingly good at football. I don’t understand why the club don’t capitalise on his legacy and legend as other clubs have done (benefitting him in the process). In many senses, Beauchamp is Oxford, he should be revered and remembered. 

Notable others? Kemar Roofe was the highest ranked player of the most recent era (Appleton – Clotet – Robinson) with 7% of the vote. Roy Burton is the stand out name from the pre-TV era with 2% nestling alongside the likes of Billy Hamilton and Trevor Hebberd. Of the current squad, only Josh Ruffels made the list with a single vote. It seems to become a favourite player, you need to no longer be at the club, allowing for your legend to be re-edited with all the bad bits taken out.  

I don’t know why I asked for three nominations for a Hall of Fame, it’s a nightmare to analyse and produces similar results to the Favourite Player question. It does give some more latitude in the voting with seventy-one different names nominated. 

The top three all clocking over 100 votes were again James Constable, Joey Beauchamp and John Aldridge. Fourth (Kemar Roofe) polled less than half that (48). The top 10 was completed by Matt Elliot, Ron Atkinson, Paul Moody, Gary Briggs, Roy Burton and Trevor Hebberd. A pretty era-spanning bunch. Malcolm Shotton was 11th, one vote behind Hebberd, clearly that goal at Wembley made all the difference.

Halls of Fame, like the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, only really get interesting once you’ve got the obvious ones out of the way. Yes, get The Beatles and Rolling Stones in, but also recognise Metallica and Run DMC. 

From the Headington days, Maurice Kyle, John Shuker and Graham Atkinson all got a number of nominations. From the 1980s Kevin Brock, Peter Foley and George Lawrence. In the 90s Paul’s Simpson and Paul Reece were mentioned, though barely troubled the scorers. Dean Whitehead and Billy Turley were the only players from the early 2000s to pick up votes, but perhaps that’s no surprise.

Midweek fixture: 2010 play-off winners – where are they now?

Ryan Clarke

A goalkeeper who saved his team more times than any other player is ironically most well known for dropping the ball into his own net with the score at 2-0. Clarke went on to play more than 200 times for the club before moving to Northampton Town. His career stalled a bit and he failed to make a single appearance, later admitting to depression. After a brief spell at Wimbledon he moved to Eastleigh and Torquay and is currently at Bath City.

Damian Batt

A full-back with pace and a prodigious engine, Batt played on for three more years before briefly claiming a move to Vancouver Whitecaps. It came to nothing and he announced his retirement allowing him to focus on his business Alexander Du’Bel. He made a brief return at Eastleigh and then Dagenham and Redbridge before fully retiring in 2015. In 2017, the Telegraph raised a series of concerns about his dubious claims to be raising money for charity.

Mark Creighton

The Beast who kick started the season with a last minute winner over York was a wall of a central defender. Almost as soon as the following season started Creighton was loaned out to Wrexham, before moving to Kidderminster Harriers permanently. After two years he retired due to injury and set up his tattoo business Raw Ink Studios.

Jake Wright

Signed midway through the season to replace Luke Foster, Wright evolved into a formidable centre-back and leader. Wright steered the club through the League 2 years and into the Appleton era where he captained the team to promotion in 2016. He signed for Sheffield United, rejoining Chris Wilder during that summer and promptly won promotion with them to The Championship.

Anthony Tonkin

A sanguine full-back signed in the January before the play-off final. Tonkin drifted out of the team after promotion, but had a moment in the sun against Swindon Town. In 2012 he moved to Aldershot Town before moving onto Frome Town. A business graduate, he had a sideline as a property developer during his playing days. He became a Financial Advisor on retiring before becoming a Quantity Surveyor.

Dannie Bulman

Bulman was signed at the start of the promotion season after leaving Crawley Town. He had already played over 350 games for Wycombe, Stevenage and Crawley. Bulman was quickly moved on back to Crawley following promotion; Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake. After that he moves to Wimbledon where he was the Football League’s oldest player in 2018. Currently back at Crawley.

Adam Chapman

Signed from Sheffield United, Chapman took over from the injured Adam Murray as the creative force in midfield. Immediately before the final it was announced that Chapman was set to stand trial for killing someone in car accident. He was convicted and spent a year away in a young offenders institute. He returned and played spasmodically before moving on, at one playing a game against Wycombe with a burnt his nipple from baby milk. He now plays for Sheffield FC.

Simon Clist

An invaluable water-carrier in the middle of midfield. Clist became our unlikely first goalscorer on our return to the Football League. In 2012 Clist moved to Hereford on loan and then permanently. The trail runs cold at this point, although he reappeared as guest of honour at the club in 2018.

Jack Midson

A player with a deft touch and great poise; Midson was another player who undeservedly was moved out of the club by Chris Wilder following promotion. He eventually settled with Wimbledon, taking them back to the Football League and having the honour of scoring against the Dons’ nemesis MK Dons. Following a number of moves he became assistant manager at Concord Rangers. He’s also a director of M&M Sports Coaching with his team mate Sammy Moore. Recently appointed manager at Hemel Hempstead Town.

James Constable

A bona fide club legend. Constable scored over 100 goals and just one short of the club’s goalscoring record left for Eastleigh. After four years he moved to Poole Town one loan, recently announcing his semi-retirement and became a patron of Oxford United in the Community. Left Eastleigh permanently in May 2019.

Matt Green

A peculiar career which started at Cardiff, he had a brief loan spell at Oxford before controversially moving to Torquay. He came back in 2010 and became part of a formidable three pronged attack. Another player who was moved on a little too quickly, in 2013 he scored a bucketload at Mansfield earning him a move to The Championship and Birmingham City. Injury stalled his career and he moved back to Mansfield before moving to Lincoln and Salford.

Subs:

Billy Turley

A character and a dying breed, Turley lost his place to Ryan Clarke at the beginning of the season. He was released immediately after the final before spending some time at Brackley Town.

Kevin Sandwith

An early Chris Wilder Signing, he lost his place to Anthony Tonkin at Christmas. Released after the final he went to Mansfield before drifting around the non-league and disappearing.

Alfie Potter

Potter came on to score the iconic third goal at Wembley. He played on until 2015 enjoying moments in the sun such as a winner over Swindon and a leading part in a 4-1 win over Portsmouth. Joined Chris Wilder at Northampton in 2015 before moving to Mansfield and Billericay Town.

Rhys Day

Day came on with three minutes to go and won the header which set up the breakaway for the third goal. Another player who played briefly for Mansfield before popping up at Hyde. Currently an Operations Manager in Manchester.

Sam Deering

A diminutive forward who set up Alfie Potter for the third goal. Deering drifted in and out of the team until 2011 before moving to Barnet. Enjoyed an FA Cup giant killing with Whitehawk before ending up at Billericay.

Manager: Chris Wilder

Battled on with the club until everyone forgot what a remarkable job he had done. Left acrimoniously in 2014 for Northampton who were, at the time, bottom of League 2. He saved them by beating us on the last game of the season. He followed it up by winning the title while we came second. Shortly after, he moved to Sheffield United where he won promotion to the Championship and then, in 2019, The Premier League.

Farewell Beano, and farewell the golden age

So, that’s that then. James Constable, Oxford United’s most important player since Joey Beauchamp, has gone.  Just think, we may not see his likes again for a decade or more. I thought that about us winning a major trophy – that it could be years before we lifted another piece of proper silverware – and that was 28 years ago. Perhaps we’ll never see his likes again.

In the end it was both predictable and unpredictable. Unpredictable because like all institutions you grow to expect them to be around forever. Predictable because it had to happen at some point; the longer he stayed, the older he got, the less goals he scored, the more likely he was to leave. His last contract was signed when we were on the up, he was expected to deliver 20+ goals a season in the Football League and he didn’t. That adjustment of his value when his contract was up was always going to be uncomfortable. Nobody wants it to end like this, but at the same time it was always likely to.

The era of Wembley, Wilder and Beano slowly grinds to a halt. A golden period hermetically sealed and buried only to be opened during dark and barren days. Late night trawls around YouTube, a DVD found in a box of memorabilia in the loft. It was always going to happen, but it’s still sad that the day has come, especially with those dreams of Championship football and goalscoring records left unfulfilled. Perhaps the best stories are those where you’re left wanting a little bit more.

I have always been a fan of Chris Wilder, the reason is that he guided us into a golden period and you have to treasure those while you can. James Constable was his man on the pitch. Next year it will be the fortieth anniversary of me first going to The Manor, I’ve experienced three golden periods in that time – the mid-80s – John Aldridge, the mid-90s – Joey Beauchamp and 2009-2014; James Constable. For clubs like us, they don’t come around very often; you need to recognise when you’re in one, and look after it best you can.

Those looking for a replacement for Constable are likely to be disappointed. It’s not just his goals that made him who he was; it was the timing of his arrival, what he lead us to, how he carried himself. It is not just Constable that makes him a legend; it’s the period in which he was with us. We’re in a different time now, if you go looking for a hero you’ll come up disappointed, they will appear, if you’re lucky, from somewhere least expected.

From a reputation perspective, the club will always lose out in these situations. Most fans have a romantic view of players, and they expect clubs to act in the same irrational cavalier way they do. There are some who would have happily released every player from the squad at the end of last season. Now, losing Beano is like ripping your heart out. Had the club fired the squad after the Northampton game and then tried to reinstate them in the same way, they would have been considered beyond a joke. If they had offered Constable £100k a year to score two more goals people would have laughed them out of the county. But, you can almost guarantee that there will be calls to ‘get Beano back’ for the next 3-5 years as there was with Beauchamp, Paul Powell, Jim Smith, and others in the past.

But the club needs to look pragmatically. There is plenty of speculation around what Constable’s salary was and what he was offered. It seems bizarre that salaries appear to be such common knowledge. I barely know the salary of members of my team at work and yet it seems that everyone knows what Beano wanted and was offered. Was it streamed live on the Yellow Player? Or maybe people pick up fragments of various rumours and lies until they eventually coagulate into supposed facts.

Claims and counter-claims have already flown around; Beano is the wounded bird, he loves the club and is devastated to leave. He’s always been the great servant rather than the most bankable asset and I genuinely believe he saw the club beyond the immediate issue of money. Less helpfully, Richard Hill at Eastleigh said that Constable was looking for a ‘fair deal’ which has sent the cat amongst the pigeons. Fairness is like the truth; there are always at least three versions of it – your version, my version and the actual version.

One figure suggests that the club offered him what they believed to be a fair figure; £800 per week. Football wages are always expressed as a ‘per week’ figure which makes them sound huge, but that’s about £40,000 a year; a typical salary for a fairly experienced professional working for a small company.

Eastleigh, it’s alleged, have offered him more than twice that. Which presumably they consider to be fair and no doubt James Constable would do too. But this is a frankly ridiculous amount of money for any player at that level of football. It’s difficult to know whether to back the fairness of a realistic and down to earth club, or the fairness of one that is ambitious to the point of wrecklessness. We’d love a club to be ambitious and realistic, but that’s rarely possible.

What does seem true is that Constable has made his decision for pragmatic reasons. For all the talk of loving the club, this is not a football decision, it’s a career decision. Eastleigh have offered him whatever it is they have offered him to play in front of two men and a dog. He should do well  back in the Conference, but it seems a decision in which he recognises that at some point playing football with your heart has to give way to sustaining your career using your head.

The reality is that Constable’s market value has fallen from the heady days when Swindon and Bristol Rovers were offering him silly money. He has even fallen within the club from the 20 goals a year striker to 15 goals. He was never likely to reverse that trend as he approached 30.

In February, after Constable scored against Bristol Rovers putting him 4 short of the record, I tweeted a scenario where he would break the record on the last game of the season to send us up and Chris Wilder and Northampton down. Someone replied and said they expected Beano to have passed the record long before then. Nearly four months on and he still fell two short, it isn’t so much that the club didn’t allow him the opportunity to break the record, it’s just that he wasn’t good enough to do it.

The romantics amongst us will mourn the fact that Beano didn’t become the leading goalscorer and that we were never there to give him the ovation he deserved. With a bottomless pool of money, yes the club might have paid whatever he wanted just to push him over the line, but there is no bottomless pit.

The club has responded responsibly in terms of its long term stability and its future prospects, whereas Constable has acted responsibly in terms of the long term security of himself, his girlfriend and daughter. Eastleigh have acted responsibility in terms of the pursuit of whatever dream it is they’re pursuing; even if it is foolhardy and unsustainable. Somewhere in the middle of that is a compromise; Oxford have compromised by losing the player, Eastleigh have compromised their future stability and Constable has compromised his status as a league player. We are the ones who lose out because we’re dreamers who can’t compromise. Sadly, while we might want to look for one, sometimes nobody is at fault.

Shooting sacred cows

Gary Waddock put on a brave face in front of the television cameras as we were annihilated by Southend on Monday night. Deep inside he must have been wondering what he’s inherited, and more importantly; where does he go next?

It’s pretty easy to get carried away by any defeat; especially one that’s been magnified through the medium of TV. It’s easy to think that the world spent all day thinking about the game and how it might pan out when in reality many will probably have been unaware it was even on.
However, it’s fair to say that if the Southend defeat confirmed anything at all, it’s that if we do get promoted this season, it is most likely be down to the collective incompetence of the division rather than the brilliance of our play. 
So, while the season remains, astonishingly, all for the taking, it leaves you wondering what misery might be waiting for us in League 1 next season if we do make it.
A quick look at the current League 1 table suggests to me that the highest we might hope to finish should we get there is around 19th or 20th. Teams above that position just look too good for us to be able to trouble.
It seems pretty clear that changes will be needed regardless of where we are next season. With endless talk of ‘new eras’ under Gary Waddock (I think we’ll let history decide whether his reign might be considered an ‘era’), it may be time to think the unthinkable and shoot some of the sacred cows of the squad.
I’m not suggesting that there should be a arbitrary cull, but those you might think of as permanent fixtures, shouldn’t be above scrutiny.

Mickey Lewis and Andy Melville
Call it the power of TV, but shots of Waddock hunched behind hoardings in the away dugout flanked by Mickey Lewis and Andy Melville looked like the three ‘see no evil’ wise-monkeys. Waddock, we shouldn’t judge (although many did), but his new face did make Lewis and Melville’s presence seem a little odd. Like trying to explain to a new girlfriend why your settee make a noise like a loud fart when you sit on it, it was almost as if Lewis and Melville were apologetically explaining to Waddock the failings of squad. It was like when you decorate a room in a house and all the other rooms suddenly look tired and in need of a refresh. Will Lewis and Melville add value to the new set up? It didn’t seem as though they learned much from Chris Wilder, which might suggest their key benefit was in carrying out instructions of the man in charge. Perhaps that’s a good thing, everyone needs able foot soldiers, but it would be nice to think we weren’t reliant wholly on Waddock for ideas and insight.

James Constable
Constable is an interesting one, he’s approaching the goalscoring record and he’s a bona fide club legend. To get rid of him would be a massive risk to Waddock’s credibility. Despite his goalscoring record, he missed two excellent chances against Southend and scores only fitfully now he’s in League 2. Waddock may also view him as a relic of the past, and that moving him on would be symbolic of any change he might want to instigate. However, as is often the case, Constable was a rare positive with his work rate and commitment compensating for any failings in front of goal. My view is that Constable is worth keeping, but he needs pace and goalscoring ability to play off. I’ve no doubt he is willing to play any role, but his position as a key source of goals – and with it his right to a shirt – has to be under threat.

Jake Wright
There were times last season when Jake Wright was almost Bobby Moore-like in his command of the defensive arts. He didn’t put a foot wrong all season. This season injuries have taken their toll along with the change of management. It’s easily forgotten but Jake Wright, along with Constable and Ryan Clarke were lolling around in reserves teams or the non-league before Chris Wilder turned them into exemplary professionals. Wright has looked much shakier this season, perhaps a consequence of playing alongside so many different players, but it may be that injuries are getting the better of him, or the discipline Wilder instilled in him is on the wane. Can we afford to find out whether he’ll shake off his current shakiness? Waddock may decide that Wright is, in fact, wrong.

Ryan Clarke
Only Sky’s convention of awarding man of the match to someone from the winning team prevented Ryan Clarke from taking the accolade. Given that he also conceded 3, and he gave away an unnecessary penalty, that’s a damning indictment of those who were playing in front of him. Waddock cannot have failed to be impressed by Clarke’s performance; a minor bright spot in a bleak evening. Regardless of Max Crocombe’s potential, it would be hard to see why Clarke’s position would come under any threat.

Alfie Potter
Oh Alfie, when do you become the complete product you’ve always threatened to be? Potter enjoys a lot of protection due to his goal at Wembley and his ever present ‘promise’, but there is a point when promise needs to be converted into something more productive. On a good pitch and given plenty of space, Potter will excel, but in the rutted envrions of Southend and the like he tends to bimble along around midfield without much end product. How much time do you give him? When should we expect him to put in a season (or even half a season) of game changing wing-play? It pains me massively to say it, but of all the sacred cows, Potter could easily be the first to go.

#beano100

There’s only really one topic you can cover after Saturday’s game; James Ashley Constable.

The Stranglers were right when they said that there are no more heroes anymore. But while they whimsically pine for some ill-defined loss of cultural values, there’s sound sociological reasoning underpinning this observation.

When you’re young you’re much more likely to see something you consider to be remarkable. That’s not because you’re seeing something remarkable, it’s because you’re seeing something for the first time, which is a pretty big step up from not seeing it at all. When I was about seven, my favourite footballer was John Doyle due to the fact I’d seen him kick a ball to the half way line and because he had shiny thighs lathered in Deep Heat. These were remarkable things I’d never seen before. A number of years later I saw George Lawrence’s lathered thighs shining under The Manor floodlights and realised that Doyle wasn’t, after all, all that.

As we get older we become more knowing; we’re less impressed by what we see. Because we’ve seen it before, we can rationalise why it’s happened. We can assess things we might once have felt heroic in a more objective way.

Eventually the heroism meter becomes so sophisticated, the bar over which someone must leap so high, it becomes no longer possible for anyone to actually meet the criteria. At that point, there are no more heroes.

I thought that I’d grown out of Oxford United heroes years ago. Partly through age and partly because we’ve not had a lot to admire, I mean you know something is up when people start idolising Dave Savage. As my cynicism grew and we got worse, the prospect of stumbling across another genuine Oxford hero became increasingly remote.

You hope, of course, that perhaps Gary Twigg can be the next John Aldridge, or Alex Fisher the next Paul Powell. I’ve lost count of the number of wingers I hoped would turn out to be the next Joey Beauchamp.

Yes, Courtney Pitt, you failed me.

Enter James Constable; a genuine modern-day club hero. Even my dad is taken to texting me whenever Constable scores or is dropped with a message ‘When will they ever learn about Constable?’ How is it possible for a player in the modern age to become a hero to thousands of embattled cynics?

In simple terms, 100 goals for one club, for that’s what we’re celebrating here, is a remarkable feat. In the last 20 years of the Premier League only 5 players have done it. At Oxford, only two in our entire history have hit that landmark. But, whereas Graham Atkinson – who Constable now trails by a mere 7 goals – was from an age when staying with one club long enough to notch up that score was a norm, in the modern age, in the lower leagues, it’s close to unheard of.

Goalscorers are bankable assets, even in the in League 2, and it takes some doing just to be at a club long enough to even come close to a milestone like 100 goals. Take a contemporary like Richard Brodie; he got to 50 goals before Crawley offered up an obscene amount of money that York couldn’t ignore.

This is why Constable is unusual. He’s been able to score 100 goals because he’s stuck with us. He’s turned down attractive offers from Swindon and Bournemouth, and the club have had offers from Crawley and Bristol Rovers they’ve rebuffed. That says two things to me; firstly, Constable is a considerate and thoughtful professional who thinks beyond the money, and, in return, the club values those attributes in him.

Whether he’d have survived at Swindon or Bournemouth is open to question; he has mountains of credit with Oxford fans and occasional lapses in form need that to get you through to the other side. However, with big offers come big salaries; he could have simply taken those wages, but he didn’t.

The loyalty; which always sounds slightly wrong because it implies that he’s at the club because he feels too guilty to leave, is just one thing. The nature of the loyalty has taken Constable to another level. Had he signed for Bournemouth, I suspect he’d have been filed away with Tommy Mooney and Dean Windass as brief passing conquests who left to find something better to do. Typical of our luck.

But Constable bucked the trend; he didn’t chase the money, he considered more; his family, the credit he has at the club and he stayed with what he knows.

And then, there are the goals. Not just the number, its about the right type. Peter Foley scored 90 times for Oxford, yet it’s difficult to remember a single one as being significant. The goals James Constable has scored give you goose bumps.

The header against Wrexham in the middle of the head rush of the ‘Believe’ campaign. Billy Turley fell to the floor as Craig Nelthorpe threw in a last gasp cross. Deep into injury time; if Constable connects, we fight on, if not; that’s it, the season is over. It was as stark as that. Constable stretches and does connect; the ball clips the crossbar and goes in. I’ve only ever experienced the momentary silence of a stunned crowd twice, the goal Joey Beauchamp scored against Blackpool in 1996 and that goal against Wrexham. Still my favourite.

In the first leg of the semi-final against Rushden, he span tightly to drill home and then a few days later raced through the Diamonds defend to rifle home wheeling away, backwards, in front of a frenzied Oxford Mail Stand. The giddy abandon of people who actually thought were about to be released from their purgatory.

And Wembley, of course, a freight train through the York defence, an irresistible force channelling an unstoppable energy. Quick feet and a drive into the corner. 22 minutes, Wembley, 2-0. This just didn’t happen to Oxford United. Except, when James Constable is present, it does, it seems.

Back in the football league; the League Cup, our cup, and a barmy joyous night of goals against Bristol Rovers. Two wonderful strikes amongst six.

Town End, Swindon. Goaded by Paolo Di Canio as a Swindon fan, a cynical attempt to destabilise him and the club in the light of the first league meeting in a decade. 12 minutes, Leven swings in a cross; Constable connects, 1-0. Half an hour later; Leven’s free-kick; who’s on the line? Do I need to ask? A Swindon fan, Mr Di Canio?

Goals and goals and goals and goals.

And not just goals; against Swindon in the JPT. Constable’s been quiet, some half chances, a penalty appeal, a minute to go; the ball bounces free and he’s on his way. Perfect pass to Alfie Potter; 1-0. He did it again.

Even his sending off against Swindon the year before seemed wholly in harmony with the narrative of the day – the injustice, the plight and then the heroism and a victory for the good. James Constable is interwoven into our history. The common thread through our resurrection from the Firoz Kassam years.

Oxford United fans are embittered, unforgiving people. We’re damaged. People have let us down; Maxwell, Herd, Kassam, Merry. Aldridge left, Houghton left, Saunders left, Elliot left, Windass left, Mooney left. Countless others have taken the money and not performed. Every single one has left us. But not James Constable. On the pitch his goals have dragged us from darkness. Off the pitch he bucks the stereotype of a heartless money-obsessed footballer.

When we were sitting just outside the relegation zone in the Conference all we needed was someone to love and to love us back. James Constable did just that.

Is James Constable a dirty player?

James Constable’s sending off seemed to cast a shadow over the otherwise excellent 3-0 demolition of Wimbledon on Saturday. But who is at fault? Constable, the referee, Will Antwi, or is it something else?

James Constable was sent off for the 4th time since we’ve been back in the Football League. In that respect he’s our most indisciplined, dirty, player. But something about that doesn’t sound right. The straight red he got against Wimbledon threatened to overshadow what was another tremendous display. And, of course, the sending off was a complete travesty with Constable appearing to elbow Will Antwi in the face without the aid of any elbows. This follows his ‘elbow’ against Exeter earlier this season which was similarly innocuous, and another raised arm against Swindon which didn’t seem to contain any particular malice.

It’s easy to blame the referee in situations like that. Referees are subjected to an unspoken conspiracy  by managers, players and experts within the press (i.e. made up of former players and managers). Last week Mark Lawrenson came out with the classic ‘If that’s not a penalty then why didn’t the referee book him for diving’ line. This insinuates that the referee did think it was a penalty and for sinister and conspiratorial reasons decided against awarding it. Or he thinks the referee is a cheat. Which is slander. And yet totally acceptable, it seems.

Was the referee cheating when sending off James Constable? Probably not. The idea that all referees are, for some reason, are just trying to piss off the entire world by deliberately making bad decisions seems somewhat far fetched.

Let’s Consider three most common areas of contention within football. Firstly, the penalty. The purpose of a penalty box is to penalise those who prevent a goal from being scored. And yet, a striker apparently has a ‘right’ to go down at the faintest of touches. Secondly, there’s offside; a rule that exists to prevent goal hanging, that irritating little shit at school who used to hang around 10 yards from the goal and do nothing but pop the ball in net every time it dropped to him. Now, offsides have to consider whether a player is ‘active’ or not. The third is handball; a simple rule designed to prevent someone using their hand to gain an advantage. Now, we have the chicken and egg debate about ball-to-hand or hand-to-ball. Most handballs now are simply players being penalised for not getting their hand out the way fast enough; even if there’s no real intention to prevent the opposition gaining an advantage.

In each of these three areas the rules have over evolved from their simple purpose. The margin of error in judging it, though, has been eroded away to a point that no human can make a simple objective decision based on what they see. Instead, they have to interpret what they see. Video evidence won’t help because you still can’t get into the player’s head to understand the intention of their action.

Each of these situations are easily resolved by objectifying them. Did the attacking player deliberately get prevent the attacker from scoring? For offside, why not draw a line across the pitch, Subbuteo style, to signify where offsides begin? And a handball is a handball when the player’s hands are outside the contour of his body (i.e. if his hands are by his side or in front of him, then it’s not a handball).

In Constable’s situation, it seems referees are starting to interpret his actions as being violent or dangerous. He’s a physical and aggressive player, he’s always been better when he’s had that fire in his belly. During the Conference years in particular he could easily have been guilty of ungentlemanly conduct, that’s a fair cop, but a dangerous player? Never.

The referee, however, now has to interpret what he saw to decide Constable’s fate. There was a physical aerial challenge, a player fell to the floor holding his face, people reacted and, well, Constable has done this before hasn’t he? Therefore, the balance of probability is that there was a foul.

Why is the referee forced to make a decision on the spot? Judging the “intent” in a split second based on a series of circumstantial signals, it wouldn’t be difficult for him to pause and look at the player on the ground. Is his injury consistent with being smashed in the face? Given that Antwi hopped to his feet and allegedly gave the crowd a smile suggests perhaps not. A quick inspection of the injury would have helped make the referee’s decision. No injury, no problem. This won’t rid football of controversy, but it will take the subjectivity out of referee’s decision.

It’s not fair on the referee, it’s definitely not fair on the player. If the club are successful and rescinding James Constable’s red card, I suspect this isn’t the end. Constable’s card is marked; he’s a player gaining a reputation that he’s likely to commit red card offences. Referees are unlikely to take the Wimbledon mistake into account when making their decision. Given that Constable’s game is based his combative nature, he’s more likely to get into trouble when he’s on form. I hope that the undeserved reputation he risks acquiring doesn’t deaden his impact.