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.

News round-up: loan stars

I was going to open this post by making out that I was slapping myself in the face trying to resist the temptation of being optimistic about the coming season. Luckily the Brackley result poured the necessary cold water on that.

Friendlies are horrible; if they’re meaningless then why do all teams play them? Fitness is one obvious reason; which is why Matt Day should expect to play a lot this summer. How do you manage to be a professional footballer and put on (as rumoured) a stone in weight during the close season? Especially shortly after being publicly told that he was on his way out of the club if he didn’t change his attitude. How stupid is Matt Day? Or is this why we love him so?

The other reason for friendlies is an opportunity to walk through some patterns of play – which is why James Constable’s winning goal against Oxford City is encouraging. At least he and the ball were in the right place at the right time to score.

Most of the week was taken up with the flurry of signings 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 although none of them are actually ours. I’m not sure of the ins and outs of the loan system. It seems we pay the salary and get a decent player – but we don’t get to keep them. I’m not comfortable with this idea because it seems to dilute the club’s identity (e.g. its best players aren’t really its players at all). On the other hand, I’ve never professed to being totally au fait with modern football and – like people using lower-case text message language in work emails – perhaps it’s the way things are done nowadays. It is, I suppose, a short term investment in a long term future.

Certainly Lewis Haldane and James Constable seem to have the backing from the fans of their parent clubs, which is a good sign. Jamie Guy, on the other hand, appears to be yet another ‘bad-boy’ (Robinson, Jeannin, Zebrowski). Although if he turns out to be a John Durnin, then who cares? Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers once said of the Italians “As long as the manager wins the title it doesn’t matter if he’s caught sniffing cocaine out of the arsehole of a whore” which is kind of how I feel about Guy. One of the benefits of the loan system is that if he does make us successful, its because we’re a great club – if not, he’s from Colchester.

I wonder whether the signing of Jake Cole suggest that cracks in Billy Turley have started to show. Certainly Turley had is eccentric moments last season, although in the main he was excellent. The length of Cole’s signing suggests that Turley’s injury may be worse than originally perceived. Although goalkeepers are able to play into their forties, you have to question whether an injury that keeps him out for a total of five months throughout the summer and first two months of the new season may actually signal the beginning of the end.