George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Mackie races

Sunday 19 July 2020

Battling through the tuck queue getting your ears flicked by Pogo Patterson and Roland Browning has set sulky sixth former Rob Dickie up for the big time. That’s the view of KRob, who has issued a ‘come and get him’ plea to anyone prepared to listen. Dickie has been linked with Every Team Joey Beauchamp Failed To Sign For including Nottingham Forest, Fulham and Southampton. 

Monday 20 July 2020

GLS once enjoyed an expansive physical relationship with a woman of considerable experience. We say experience, she was 58 and when we say woman we mean ‘predatory geography teacher’. We were 14 when it ended. After three years. It wasn’t the age gap that did for the relationship, or the court case, it was the life of monotonous domesticity. How many scatter cushions does one settee need?

Like that unrelenting procession of decorative soft furnishings, it looks like KRob has collected yet another winger from the League of Ireland with the signing of Joel Cooper from Linfield.  

Tuesday 21 July 2020

He might have been one banana short of a Julian Allsop, but Jamie Mackie will always have a place in Oxford United’s heart. Social media’s leading public health campaigner announced his retirement after two years at the club.

There was a special Eight Minute Thirty Second Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with Tiger. One fan, probably named @Bulldog239402783, contacted the biased MSM BBC who he ‘never uses’ to urge our Thai owner to focus on signing ‘English talent’ rather than ‘Scottish or Irish’. Last season proved how sick we all are of being funded by Thais, and the sale of an Irishman for Thai money, and benefiting from the sales of players with Ghanian and Grenadian heritage. There’s a reason we’re called GREAT Britain, you know? And that’s because it’s the largest landmass in the British Isles. Tiger also announced that sponsors Singha were pulling out; Black N Rounds and Animalates have been alerted.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

It was all tie dye dresses and daisies in our hair for GLS in the mid-2010s. We lived free in a commune taking mind-expanding drugs, paying our way offering free love to Guru Wilder. We drank from the soup of underwhelming grafters The Great Guru brought in. Apparently one of them was Josh Payne who has moved from Crawley to Ebbsfleet.

The Oxford United diaspora spread its seed far and wide in the Championship – Tyler Roberts scored for Leeds as they ended the season champions, Shandon The Baptise, Tariq Fosu, Jedward Orphan Gavin Whyte and Curtis Nelson will feature in the play-offs. Chey Dunkley’s Wigan are going down. But if you really want to feel the effects of mind expanding drugs read the next sentence. Danny Hylton’s Luton managed to stay up. Woooh trippy, man. 

Thursday 23 July 2020

Like GLS’ lavatorial motions, Oxford United likes to get its business done early. And just like GLS’ lavatorial motions, despite lots of huffing and puffing, something usually gets stuck and everything comes out in a rush when you least expect it. The announcement of Joel Cooper from Linfield has come so early in the summer, nobody was at the training ground to announce his signing. We call this ‘Doing a Kelleher’.

Friday 24 July 2020

One of the things GLS loved about lockdown were those homely chats with old Oxford United players and managers on the official podcast. We’re at a loss as to why the club didn’t bring together former manager ‘four wins in twenty five games’ Mark Lawrenson and former director Ghislaine Maxwell, who is currently awaiting trial for enticing minors, sex trafficking and perjury. You have to say that it sounds like there are loads of great stories to tell from those two. Anyway, Lawro has been telling a story about the time he lunched with Ghislaine while he was manager. Great banter. 

Saturday 25 July 2020

Moving to any new football club is daunting, but anyone ready to step into the shoes left by a player of no lesser stature than Jonte Smith will need big cojones and broad shoulders. Now, we can’t vouch for the cojones, but there are no broader shoulders in the Football League than Liam Sercombe, who has been linked with a move to Cheltenham Town.

Meanwhile, The Sporting Ferret; the one Mustelidae we trust to make a judgement on such things, has rated our season a B+.

Kassam All Star XI – Midfield part 2

The Conference era opened with the signing of Eddie Hutchinson a player that always seemed to need another chance. He looked big and strong, he looked able, but when you expected him to be big, strong and able, he didn’t quite pull it off. So you gave him another chance to see whether he could do it. And he invariably didn’t.

Hutchinson’s ultimate claim to fame was to be the player who, despite being with the club for 3 years, in his final season was unregistered while playing for us. That cost us 5 points, and conceivably a place in back in the League a year before we actually did it.

Another member of the new crew was Carl Pettefer, a tenacious gerbil signed from Southend. With Chris Hargreaves dictating tempo and Andy Burgess offering creativity, for a moment it looked like, for the first time, we had a balanced and productive midfield.

Like all good things, this came to an end. Like all good Oxford things, it came to an end nanoseconds after it started. Burgess was fleetingly brilliant while the pitches and weather were fine, thereafter he plodded on in the hope that he would regain his early season form. Hutchinson ran around slightly behind the play. Pettefer had an excellent first season, but faded with injury.

It’s difficult to know what went wrong with Chris Hargreaves, perhaps it was the shambles around him. As the season progressed his challenges became more lunging and late. The last we saw of him was kicking over a water bottle as Exeter won the play-off penalty shoot out. It was the cleanest strike he’d had in months. He left at the end of the 2006/7 season, where he did a Ricketts and got promoted with Torquay.

As the money ran out, players like the ‘budget busting’ Michael Standing and Phil Trainer came in. Trainer had his moments, but had the unenviable habit of getting slower as he got fitter. Joe Burnell arrived with the promise of much needed bite and leadership. But despite creating the acorn that sprouted an oak, he offered little.

Darren Patterson’s reign was also notable because of the raft of loanees he brought. This including the peculiarly coloured Lewis Haldane, a strong, orange, winger who frustrated and dazzled (in more ways than one) in the way lower league wingers always do.

Chris Wilder adopting a midfield consisting of Haldane, Trainer and Adam Murray; who could pass a ball with some style, but like Hargreaves before him, was often left chasing shadows as a result of the ineptitude around him.

By the end of the season, we had a new look; Simon Clist and Adam Chapman came in alongside The Fighting Dwarf – Craig Nelthorpe. Nelthorpe was released at the end of 2008/9 to be replaced by Dannie Bulman. Clist offered unspectacular reassurance which you don’t see when it’s there, but miss when it’s not. Bulman was the magic piece of the puzzle and the Kassam years were blessed with its first and only seminal midfield.

Bulman, Clist and Murray were the perfect mix of aggression, control and creativity. When Murray was sidelined with injury, and following a crisis of confidence, Chapman joined the battle and re-pointed the trajectory of our season to promotion. Promising, following his arrival from Sheffield United, Chapman had been surprisingly subdued throughout the season but found form at just the right moment. Days before Wembley it was announced had been charged with death by reckless driving; which explained everything. With a year’s chokey hanging over his head, he put in a match winning performance at Wembley which took us up.

The Clist/Bulman/Murray/Chapman midfield lasted less than a year. Murray left for Luton, Chapman was doing his time, Clist suffered a series of niggly injuries. To the surprise of everyone, Dannie Bulman was shipped out to Crawley. He got too involved in games, said Chris Wilder, although there were times when we could have done with a bit of that during the League campaign.

From the settled trio of the promotion campaign to the tossing and turning of the first League season. Asa Hall and Simon Heslop came in from Luton, but neither could hit the consistency needed to sustain a whole season in the middle. Josh Payne suffered similarly. Paul McLaren was eventually brought in to offer experience and proved a valuable asset to the squad by anchoring a midfield full of youthful nervous energy. Although the 2010/11 midfield model saw lots of good quality attacking football, there was still a missing ingredient to take us into the play-offs and beyond.

Only Dean Whitehead made the Kassam Years All-Star XI from our first period of League football at the stadium, it seems fitting that the other two members of the squad are drawn from the seminal promotion midfield. Dannie Bulman and Simon Clist, welcome both.

The season in review: the midfield

If you want to really get into the DNA of a football team, look at its midfield. Compare, say, the flair and creativity of Xavi and Iniesta at Barcelona to the methodical coldness of De Jong, Viera and Toure at Manchester City. Defenders are organised and dependable, strikers are unpredictable firecrackers, the midfield are the character.

Look at our Conference midfield – Bulman, Clist, Murray (and latterly Chapman). That was a trio all about its strength of personality. Using our principle asset – our relative size in the non-league – we used these three to impose ourselves on our opponents. It wasn’t so much creative as intense.

Switch to this season and those three were quickly replaced. Perhaps the more composed players of League 2 weren’t going to be fooled by the pressure trick. However, there is a thing about promoted teams having momentum. Certainly Heslop and Hall are momentum players. Heslop had the better season of the two, albeit fitfully. Hall sometimes played like a bloke who’d turned up late for a kick about in the park and couldn’t quite work out which side he was on or who was on his team. Both had periods of form, but neither could sustain it for more than a few weeks at a time. I’m not entirely sure that either are The Solution.

As Heslop and Hall blasted away going forward, someone was needed to mind the shop. After the false start of Paul Wotton, Paul McLaren was drafted in to provide the cover and as a result was a late candidate for player of the year. There were times when he must have wondered what was going on with three strikers being joined by two from midfield and Batt and Tonkin joining the fun from the flanks. A worthy signing for next year, someone is needed to look after the kids.

The neo-McLaren was supposed to be Josh Payne, but whilst he had his moments, there were also times he looked a little short in terms being able to control the game. Clearly talented with occasional hot-headedness, the jury remains out as to whether he’ll here for the long haul.

His chances will be all the more limited if the club can find a way to sign Ryan Burge. Burge has much of what McLaren has, but with the added benefit of youth. A long term solution, but surely beyond our means to sign him.

All of which takes us back to the start and the last remaining member of the Conference trio. When Simon Clist was fit we looked a better team. He’s unremarkable in the way he plays, but such discipline is to be admired. I can see a point next season when he’s long gone, where we’ll be pining for someone like Clist to drop in and do simple things well.