Midweek fixture: Eight moments that remind us why we support Oxford United

Most of the time supporting Oxford United is a miserable experience. Then, every now and then, there’s a moment which reminds you why you do it. Here are eight moments which make it all worthwhile.

2009 Jamie Cook versus Luton

The aim for the season is promotion back to the Football League. The division’s other fallen giant, Luton Town, are in town. Over 10,000 turn up for this clash of the titans, we take the lead, then Jamie Cook sells the stadium a dummy and goes for goal.

2012 Peter Leven versus Port Vale

A so-so game against a so-so team in a so-so season. Mercurial playmaker Peter Leven breaks down a Port Vale attack in his own half, nudges the ball forward, then looks up. He hasn’t, has he? Yes, I think he has.

2013 Alfie Potter versus Portsmouth

Relegated but rejuvenated, Portsmouth sell out the opening game of the season; billed as a celebration of their club’s re-awakening. We’re the stooges for the occasion, there to be sacrificed for the entertainment of the locals. The script says they take the lead which they do, then Alfie Potter tears the script up and throws it in a bin fire.

2014 Nicky Rowe versus Wycombe Wanderers

Despite dominating our game against Wycombe at Adams Park, we can’t make the breakthrough. Then, with two minutes to go, Nicky Rowe picks the ball up just outside the box and lets fly with the sweetest strike you’ll ever see.

2016 Liam Sercombe versus Carlisle

Despite a season of highlights, with three games to go we need three wins to secure promotion. Hundreds make the journey north for the last game of the season against Carlisle. We take the lead early, but the signature moment of the game, of the season, of the decade, is Liam Sercombe’s marauding second. Absolute limbs.

2017 Toni Martinez versus Middlesborough

Limbs (part 2). An enjoyable run in the FA Cup is all set to end as Middlesborough take a two goal lead. It’s all over. Or is it?

2018 Ryan Ledson versus Charlton

Nothing seems to be going right; we’ve lost our manager and seem unable to get a new one. We head to Charlton, managed by Karl Robinson, who are threatening the play-offs and lose our only recognised striker to injury. With two minutes to go, we’re 1-2 down. Seconds later, we’re all square and heading for a decent, and important point. That’s never enough for Ryan Ledson.

2019 Jamie Mackie versus Bradford

We’re in the 94th minute of a relegation six pointer and Bradford are just about to score the winner to tear our hearts out and potentially send us down. They miss, we take the goal-kick, and seven seconds later, the ball drops for Jamie Mackie for a goal for the ages. Then things get really weird.

Kassam All Star XI – Strikers part 3

Yemi Odubade and Steve Basham took us into the Conference era and were joined by the enigma that was Rob Duffy. Duffy’s extraordinary achievement was to score 20 goals in a season and still fail to impress an Oxford public starved of success.

Duffy’s goal tally was inflated by a large number of penalties. When these eventually dried up, he quickly fell from favour. His coup de gras was rolling the ball gently into the arms of the Exeter keeper when clean through and facing promotion and immortality in the face during the play-off semi-final in 2007.

Duffy’s impotence meant a number of replacements were tried to save our season. Marvin Robinson was a massive battering ram who eventually wrecked himself in a car crash. Chris Zebroski was the real deal and very nearly made the difference.

These paled into insignificance in comparison to Kristaps Grebis. Grebis was a Latvian with Champions League experience. He arrived midway through the 2006/7 season and looked utterly lost. Which pretty much describes our decision making at the time. He made just four appearances, but goes down in Oxford history as one of the all-time worst signings.

2007/8’s big summer signing was Gary Twigg. That fact alone proving how destitute we were . The myth of our largesse within the Conference remained, we signed Paul Shaw, but as soon as he realised what a mess we were in he moved to Hungary. Hungary, I tell you.

With Darren Patterson’s appointment came a flurry of loan deals including one Matt Green from Cardiff. Despite a troublesome knee, he just kept scoring. That summer it looked like he would make his move permanent. As people queued for their season tickets, and Nick Merry preened himself preparing to parade his new star, Green headed south and signed for Torquay. It was one of the greatest swindles in nothing-league football. He’d be back, though, being part of the strike force that got us to Wembley and back to the league.

Darren Patterson really knew how to sign a striker. At the start of 2008/9 he signed two loanees; Jamie Guy was one, the other James Constable.

Guy was an instant hit, storming the pre-season but was injured just before the opening game. He wasn’t the same when he returned, chugging his way to Christmas before being dispatched back to his parent club with just five goals to his name.

Constable was a slower burn, the catalyst for him coming to the fore was Chris Wilder. Sometimes Wilder’s decisions are moments of genius. An early decision was to invest his spirit and philosophy into Constable. Constable was Wilder on the pitch, someone he could trust and we could follow. He is so much more than a striker; he’s the only true icon of the Kassam Stadium era so far.

Around Constable Wilder built a powerful strike force. Perhaps it was a way of buying himself some time by announcing that Sam Deering was our best player days after we lost him to a broken leg. Fans wanted so desperately for Deering to succeed, but he, um, came up a little short.

Deering has his little part in our history; exchanging passes with Alfie Potter at Wembley before Potter slammed home the third decisive goal. Potter too is somewhat of an untouchable amongst fans and seemingly the manager.

Jamie Cook, The True Carrier Of Hope, had his moment of fame. But the classic trio was Constable, Green and Jack Midson, who will always be fondly remembered for his titanic performance at Wembley, but also The Miracle of Plainmoor.

The trio didn’t last long. More guile was needed for the league and Chris Wilder brought in his favourite ever toy; Tom Craddock from Luton and the mercurial Steve MacLean.

But throughout all of this was Constable, no Kassam Stadium XI will be complete without him. When we come to review the 20th anniversary of the Kassam Stadium; his name will be first on the teamsheet.

End of season review – adios amigos

After such giddy success, it seems unfair to start looking at who should be staying and who should be going. Can’t we just stay in this place for a little bit longer?

Well, no, evidently. Few will argue with most of the releases announced this week. Franny Green is a good solid Conference pro, the kind of man you can rely on to do a shift in for you. Of course, we’re not a Conference club anymore and with the market opening up for us, his qualities won’t transfer up to the next level.

Chris Hargreaves’ moments during his second spell were fleeting, the combativeness and endeavour were there, but a career of lower league football has clearly taken its toll on his body.

Billy Turley, 2008 Oxblogger player of the year, is clearly approaching ‘legend’ status. Whilst we floundered hopelessly, the one positive constant was Turley. Sentimentality had me hoping that he’d be accommodated in some way (goalkeeping player/coach?). On the other hand, its good to preserve his legend status. How perfect was it that he signed off from the Kassam with an astonishing save against Mansfield, and some even more astonishing YouTube videos?

Kevin Sandwich might count himself a little unfortunate. By no means a stick-on first teamer and unfortunately chastised by the crowd for his shortcomings, he rarely let anyone down when needed. Squads need Kevin Sandwiches, although, it seems, not this one.

John Grant didn’t really stand a chance; his inclusion at the expense of Jack Midson immediately put him at a disadvantage. Not scoring didn’t help either.

Lewis Chalmers, might have had a chance with Adam Murray injured and Adam Chapman’s troubles. But with Chapman finding some startling form as the season closed, Chalmers’ chances disappeared.

Jamie Cook too had a chance during the period that will forever be known as ‘The Sticky Patch’. When Sam Deering couldn’t reach the penalty box with his corners; Cook represented an option for dead-ball delivery. He probably has the best first touch in the whole squad and some of his feints and passing were sublime. Sadly, in a team that thrives on its dynamic work rate, Cook’s more ‘continental’ talents were out a bit out of place. He did, at least, leave an iconic moment in the season – when he became the True Carrier of Hope.

Jamie Cook scores a goal within the context of a 2-0 win over Luton

“Have you forgotten that once we were brought here we were robbed of our name, robbed of our language? We lost our religion, our culture, our God – and many of us by the way we acted, we even lost our minds.”
Martin Luther-King

Amidst the fragmented wasteland there is a meadow, for years visitors have passed through it promising riches and leaving behind them naught but despair.

A traveller arrived with little fanfare; he was familiar, yet older and more wizened. The crowds gathered as they regularly did out of habit but little expectation.

Admist the melee and noise the carrier took centre stage. He raised his right arm and gestured to the gawdy lights of the bazaar of restaurants, cinemas and bowling alleys. The crowd were still.

“You are fearful” boomed the mysterious traveller “Paralysed not by happiness, but by the prospect of you losing what happiness you have. Your home is your misery – it is safe, it is predictable, it has become you.”

And the men gazed at his raised arm.

“This is not where your future lies; no wealth comes from property. No satisfaction from vacant consumption. You gorge but are never sated, gorge but are never enriched; there is no hope in this gluttony. Only in hope there is hope.”

The men stared at the traveller’s raised arm and grew fearful. They were angry to be challenged. The shards of truth the traveller spoke pierced their souls. One of the men spoke.

“But traveller” he said “Why should we believe you? Our hearts are blackened with disease and our lungs constricted by the cancer of our past, but it is what we have and what you speak of is a journey so beautiful, that we cannot entertain its richness. Tell us, why should we believe you when so many have come and destroyed our hopes with such callousness?”

“You should believe me” said the traveller growing to a fearful height “I have travelled a dark path for many years and now I choose to return. I have the scars of Boston and Stevenage and Rushden and Witney and Crawley and contained within each scar is a story more terrible than you will ever know. But with each is a lesson. A lesson that without riches or purpose or possessions there is nothing but hope. And it is this lesson I have learnt. FOR I AM JAMIE COOK AND I AM THE TRUE CARRIER OF HOPE.”

And the man dropped to his knees and pleaded for the carrier to prove it. The carrier, without further thought, allowed hope to glance across his body before sending it over and beyond the grasping hands of the catcher before bringing to rest lightly in the back of the net.

The men were enraptured by the carrier’s sorcery. Fear evaporated. There was much still to do to restore the great meadow – there is sweat and pain and wounds so deep they will never heal.

But above all, there is hope.

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.

Yellows 0 Forest Green Rovers 0

It’s not easy thinking of what to write about when things are going well. You need a bit of drama and farce to get your teeth into. Everyone loves a good moan, but nobody’s given us a freakin’ bone this year.

So if there’s a void, then fill it. Before yesterday’s drab 0-0 draw with Forest Green Jerome Sale (I think) and Peter Rhoades-Brown engaged in a baffling conversation about the need to freshen up the squad within the next couple of months. And that was before the game.

Well, the soothsayers they spake the truth. Collapse! Catastrophe! A bloke behind me declared Potter ‘not as quick as Yemi’ and Green ‘just shit’. A caller to the phone said he didn’t agree with the signing of Green anyway, which suggests he’s spotted an otherwise imperceptible link between Green’s ‘greedy’ past and his profligacy in front of goal.

Yeah, let’s blame everyone else. Let’s blame them for our misery, our wasted money, our bad job prospects, our missed educational opportunities, let’s blame them for our sexless marriages, our worrying embarrassing ailments, our social failings and our addictions. It’s all so much easier that way.

Losing is a dirty addiction; people love losers, they’re so needy and The System is always to blame. Newcastle are on this self-pitying scag; the deeper in the shit they go, the more erratic they become. And we all love it because it deflects you from the truth. Winning is difficult, but it’s built on being boring and corporate. Great teams bore everyone else to tears because their success is monotonous and calculated. When they lose or draw everyone salivates… and then they win again.

We were flat against Forest Green but we didn’t lose and Matt Green missed a bunch of chances, but he was there to take a swing at them. It was generally a pretty awful spectacle, but we’re still top. The short answer to the problem is that we forgot to do the basic things that make us the best team in the division. The answer is not to tear the place to pieces and sign, y’know Jamie Cook or someone, it’s to get back to the basics, work our way through the gears and start winning again.

Stop press: Shit, we’ve only gone and signed ‘son of Joey’ Jamie Cook. Apparently we the fans contributed. Given that the 12th Man Fund was boasting an impressive, but not player-buying, pot of £4,900 suggests that the contribution is either a PR masterstroke or Jamie’s standard of living is akin to a living in a Brazilian favela. Welcome back Jamie, you might find the place has changed a little bit since you were last here.