As they say in Game of Thrones; The North Remembers, unfortunately the south forgets. In the hullabaloo about new contracts and released players last week, the name T’ony McMahon was completely overlooked. The whippet worrying full-back remains on our books despite spending a good chunk of the year on loan at Scunthorpe who he helped steer to a comfortable relegation spot last season. KRob doesn’t expect him to return south next year; he doesn’t want to take a “bad signing and make it into a good signing.”; applying his trademark bewildering logic. Some would argue he spent a decent part of last season achieving the exact opposite. Not us, though, not us.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; so we can say with a degree of confidence that nobody killed Robbie Cundy during his time at the Kassam. With his career solidly rooted in a single Oxford United appearance against Dagenham and Redbridge in the JPT in 2015, Cundy dropped out of the Football League in 2017 eventually joining Bath City. As a result of his performances as The Romans’ Jake Wright to their Ryan Clarke, who also happens to be the actual Ryan Clarke, Bristol City have signed him up on a two-year contract.
Johnny Mullins has retired. Mullins was part of the promotion winning team of 2016 before leaving for Luton Town. He was at Cheltenham Town last season, but has chosen to jack it all in. Mullins was known as as The Magnet because he twice scored from a corner in 127 games. At approximately 5 corners a game, that’s a magnetism of 0.2%. Coincidentally, he also has an excellent, if slightly pricey range of kitchens.
KRob has spoken. Let’s face it this is not an unusual thing, he seems to have spoken continuously since the end of the season. So much so that it’s possible he’s still standing pitchside at Kenilworth Road speaking to an increasingly weary Nathan Cooper. That’s probably not true, although it’s exactly the kind of thing he’d do, isn’t it? His latest ejaculation focuses on his wish list for next season. Nothing remarkable about the list, although he did mention that he was hoping to bring back Wonderfoot Luke Garbutt and ban-magnet Ahmed Kashi and the sloth in the box, Jerome Sinclair.
Saturday 18 May 2019
It’s theday that the whole nation stops, gathers together around the TV set and watches a great annual institution play out in front of them. As well as Eurovision, it’s also the FA Cup final. It’s Watford’s first appearance since 1984 when they were captained by former Oxford United player and now Youth Team Officer Les Taylor. You can read him banging on about it like your drunk uncle here.
Our week closes with the news that conscientious objector Callum O’Dowda has joined us the the Republic of Ireland squad. Nothing unusual about that except he hasn’t played for Bristol City since March due to a mystery injury. Always a highly principled young man, O’Dowda and his medical team have searched for a diagnosis. It appears that it could be suffering from a broken contract resulting from an inflated ego with a number of Championship and Premier League teams interested in his signature. All very treatable if you apply a great pile of money to it.
Before it was infested by Under 23 Premier League teams, the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was a half decent tournament. At least when you got to the final. The last to maintain its integrity was 2016 where we faced Barnsley in the final. It was a joyous affair, despite the 3-2 defeat. Where are those brave men now?
Likeable weak link in an otherwise relentlessly effective team. Shared glove-based responsibilities with Sam Slocombe for most of the season. Replaced by Simon Eastwood once promotion was confirmed. Eventually went to Barnet on loan where he was briefly announced as playing for their ladies team. Now at FC Vaduz, he’s been capped by Lichenstein over 20 times and recently played against Italy.
More than capable right-back signed on loan from Everton filling a not inconsiderable hole left by George Baldock. Slotted seamlessly into the team under the tutelage of Alex MacDonald. Headed back to Everton, playing the final game of the 2015/16 season. He was part of the England team which won the Under 20 World Cup in 2017. Has spent most of his time since in and out of their starting eleven at The Toffees.
Johnny Mullins (captain)
Started the season as a first choice centre-back before falling down the pecking order. Captained the side due to Jake Wright not being fully fit. Headed for Luton at the end of the promotion season where he won promotion, before joining Cheltenham.
Cheyenne Amarni Keanu Roma Dunkley cemented a place in Oxford United folklore at Wembley by doing a Cruyff turn in his own box. Also managed to score Barnsley’s first goal. Spent most of the season overcoming Johnny Mullins in the centre of defence. Scored a decisive goal against Wycombe to seal promotion, dominant in our first year in League 1 before signing for Wigan Athletic. Won promotion to The Championship the following season.
Signed on loan from Fulham in January 2016, played only nine games before heading back. Started due to an injury to Joe Skarz. A Welsh Under-21 international, his professional career petered out, playing for Wrexham and Bala Town before ending up at Cefn Druids, A man with hidden talents, Evans is a qualified hairdresser and plays in the band Faded Strangers.
Lovable tireless winger signed from Burton at Michael Appleton’s lowest ebb. Boundless enthusiasm for the game dragged us out of the fug and into the 2015/16 season. A regular through the promotion year before being unceremoniously sold to Mansfield Town.
Oxford United survivor originally signed by Chris Wilder from Coventry City. Made the starting eleven due to a lunging John Lundstram tackle which gained a red card and a ban. Players came and went, as did managers, but Ruffels stayed. Mostly played in midfield, but converted to full-back under Karl Robinson, became a specialist in spectacular last minute goals.
Wide shouldered marauding midfielder whose goals from midfield were critical to pretty much everything we did well that season. Scored a decisive goal at Carlisle at the end of the season. The following season in League One he continued his good form until he fell out with Michael Appleton, possibly over his reaction to only being a substitute in the JPT Final against Coventry the following season, where he also scored. Signed for Bristol Rovers in the summer.
Career-minded local boy flitted in and out of the team throughout the promotion season. Scored the opener in the final to wild celebration. Also scored the last goal of the season against Wycombe before flouncing off to Bristol City in the summer. A Republic of Ireland international.
Ethereal goal machine who initially joined on loan from West Brom. Heralded a new era when he was announced as a permanent signing the following summer, smashed in over 20 goals before joining Leeds United for £4m.
Precise, analytical, focussed – everything that Michael Appleton was, Danny Hylton wasn’t. Signed by Gary Waddock weeks before the Darryl Eales revolution took hold. Stuck to the first team like chewing gum on your shoe. Scored the second goal which briefly raised hopes of a revival. At the end of the season, he headed for Luton Town where he won promotion. More recently spent most of his time cheerleading from the sidelines as Luton head for the Championship.
Initially signed to replace Ryan Clarke, Slocombe’s patchy form saw him chopping and changing with Benji Buchel throughout the season. Missed out on Wembley, but played in our 3-2 giant killing over Swansea. The signing of Simon Eastwood pushed him out the door to Blackpool. Lasted a year before going to Bristol Rovers. Loaned to Lincoln in 2019.
A leader of men who was signed by Chris Wilder in 2010. Won promotion to the Football League at the end of that year. Injury meant he missed out on being the first Oxford United player to play at Wembley twice. Led the team to promotion, but re-joined Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a defensive re-shuffle when Curtis Nelson arrived. Won promotion with the Blades where he still is, albeit now sidelined by injury.
A player who seemed to be so frequently injured, successive managers didn’t have the heart to release him. Survived Michael Appleton, Pep Clotet and became a regular in Karl Robinson’s starting eleven.
Once heralded as the future of the football club; Ashby achieved just seven appearances before being released. Signed for Oxford City.
George Waring (replaced Callum O’Dowda)
A proper unit signed on loan from Stoke City, flitted in and out of the team scoring once. Following a series of loan moves he headed for Tranmere before joining Chester in 2019.
Chris Maguire (replaced Alex MacDonald)
Enigmatic magician signed on loan from Rotherham. Sulked from one club to another, disgusted by the mediocrity around him. At Oxford, however, he bloomed and signed permanently in 2016. Scored twice in a derby win over Swindon and generally oozed genius. Appleton’s departure scuppered chances of a renewed contract where he made a disasterous move to Bury. Following their relegation he was signed by Sunderland where he initially regained form. Slipped out of the reckoning as the season progressed.
Jordan Bowery (replaced Danny Hylton)
One of numerous target men that Michael Appleton signed. Unlike most of the others, he weighed in with seven goals during his time with the club including a critical winner at Portsmouth. Dropped to the Conference with Leyton Orient where he failed to find any form. Signed on loan with Crewe before being made permanent, scoring twenty goals for the club.
Michael Appleton’s time in charge at Oxford will be remembered as nothing but glorious. It didn’t start that way though. He lost his first four league games in front of an increasingly suspicious home crowd, flirted with relegation and chugged along to finish 13th in his first season. During that time he played no less than 42 different players, performing what he now calls ‘major surgery’ on the squad as the season progressed. Have you ever wondered what happened to them all?
Once so much the future of the club (yes, another one) Chris Wilder named him on the bench of a Conference game just so ensure we could maximise any transfer fees we might get for him. Made a total of seven appearances before being released. Now at Oxford City.
An old mate of Michael Appleton’s from Portsmouth and former FA Cup winner. Ashdown came in late in the season to replace Ryan Clarke. Made a decent fist of it as we started to turn the corner. Now retired.
Gorgeous George was brought in with the help of Dave Jones from Sky Sports from MK Dons. Signed for another year on loan in 2015, but only lasted until January when one Karl Robinson dragged him back to help out with their relegation fight from the Championship. Bought by Sheffield United in 2017 by Chris Wilder.
For a short while Barnett was the answer to all our problems. The big strong target man that Michael Appleton had been looking for. At the end of his loan period, despite efforts to sign him permanently, he moved to Shrewsbury. Now at Cheltenham.
Sometimes there are players who play for minutes before disappearing, and for some reason you remember them when everyone else forgets. Richard Brindley is one of those players for me. Made 3 appearances on loan from Scunthorpe, now plays for Bromley.
Part of an original batch of signings at the start of the Appleton era. Showed precious little, lasted eleven games, including a half decent performance against West Brom in the league cup before being shipped out to Mansfield. Moved to Shrewsbury and was part of the team that nearly won promotion in 2018. Moved to Coventry City at the end of that season. Great hair.
A little glimmer of hope when signed from Bristol City showing plenty of pace down the flank. Lasted nine games before heading back to his parent club. After a series of loan moves, he eventually settled with Fleetwood.
Perhaps the weirdest of all the signings that season. Rumoured to have joined from Jarrow Roofing, it was announced that he’d gone on loan to Torquay before anyone had confirmed he had signed. Lasted three games before heading back north. Now at Whitby Town.
A club legend in the twilight of his Oxford career. Appleton stuck with him for most of the season before passing the gloves to Jamie Ashdown. Clarke joined Northampton Town the following year, but despite winning promotion, didn’t play a single game. He joined Wimbledon and Eastleigh before settling with Torquay and then Bath City.
One of the inherited players having been signed in 2014. Saw his contract out and left at the end of the season in 2016. Headed out to India for while before returning to play for Halifax and Leyton Orient. Eventually ended up coaching at Bradford and was somewhat thrown under a bus when he became head coach briefly in 2018
Perpetual understudy to Ryan Clarke, Crocombe was a New Zealand international whose highlight at Oxford was keeping goal in a heroic League Cup defeat to West Brom at the start of Appleton’s reign. Moved to Carlisle after being released, then ended up at noveau riche Salford in the National League.
Came from Kidderminster but spent much of his early career on the bench. He described himself on his Twitter account as the club mascot. Eventually overhauled Johnny Mullins for a first team spot, did a Cruyff turn at Wembley, scored a goal that clinched promotion, played his part in everything we did that was good for two years before going on to play for Wigan in the Championship.
A player with legs like out of control fire hoses. Seemed to specialise in finding new and interesting ways of not connecting with crosses or misreading through-balls. Went back to Chesterfield where he joined Blackpool.
Most famous for being the ball boy who got in an altercation with a Swindon player during the 2012 derby win. Played just 1 game before moving to Norway. Retired due to injury in 2017 aged just 21 and became a personal trainer.
A battering ram of a striker who came from Dundalk with a decent goalscoring reputation. Never really got going at Oxford, although scored a critical equaliser in a draw at Luton in the promotion season. Went to Mansfield before heading back to Dundalk where he’s started banging in the goals again. Very much found his level.
Yet another bright young thing signed on loan from Charlton. Holmes-Dennis started with a man of the match performance against Tranmere, but in his subsequent 14 games ran out of steam. Headed back to Charlton before going to Huddersfield. Managed a handful of games before heading to Bristol Rovers.
Arrived from Brighton with a decent reputation but only managed four games before being released at the end of the season. Played for Exeter City, Hemel Hempstead and is now at Northcote City.
Signed on a short term contract after leaving Birmingham City, expected to be the player who would run the team. Only made seven appearances before disappearing off to Eastleigh. Last heard of at Whitehawk.
One of many youth team products who rotated through the first team. Made one first team substitution before having his contract cancelled so he could move to Norway. Returned to Hayes and Yeading, then Banbury.
When Michael Appleton talks about doing major surgery on the squad David Hunt frequently springs to mind (also see: Tom Newey). A tediously dependable full-back in a slowly decaying squad, he was eventually shipped out to Barnet and slipped into non-league with Margate and Wealdstone.
A strange bearded wizard, signed by Gary Waddock and adopted by Michael Appleton. Appleton described him as not very bright, but he carried him through the early months with an prodigious work ethic. Joined the glory train in 2016, winning promotion before joining Luton to everyone’s dismay that summer. I love Danny Hylton.
Goalkeeper who signed on loan from Sheffield United to cover Ryan Clarke’s injury. Played 10 games before returning to Yorkshire. Played a season at AFC Wimbledon on loan before being signed by Hull City.
A true survivor, despite crippling injuries and changes of management, Long is still with the club in 2019 despite only ever making very occasional appearances.
Adopted by Michael Appleton having been signed in 2013 by Chris Wilder. Crippled with injuries meant he was limited to just seven appearances before being released. Played nearly 100 games for Wimbledon, winning promotion to League 1 in 2016, but retired in 2018 following a persistent injury.
The first of many big strong target men Michael Appleton tried. Signed on loan from Norwich, the job of leading the line in a formative team was too much for the teenager. Scored in an early League Cup success over Bristol City, he returned to Norwich after seven games. Still at Norwich now and has had a range of loans, most significantly at Shrewsbury in 2017/18 when he nearly got promoted to the Championship.
A dependable leader and a rare beacon of consistency. Mullins partnered Jake Wright for a majority the season and a good chunk of the promotion season in 2015/16 before being slowly overhauled by Chey Dunkley. Ended the year on the bench, was released in 2016 where he signed for Luton Town. Won promotion in 2016/17 before slowly falling out of favour. Signed for Cheltenham in 2018.
An icon of Chris Wilder’s latter years at Oxford, a soul-destroyingly dependable full-back. Followed Wilder to Northampton Town making no more than a dozen appearances over two years. Retired due to injury and turned to coaching. Currently back with his first club Leeds as Under 16 coach.
One of many juniors rising through the club’s ranks at the time. Looked lightweight in 2014/15, but bulked up considerably the following season. A marginal rather than key player of the promotion squad, he was signed by Bristol City in 2016 and capped by the Republic of Ireland.
Lovable, jinky winger, Alfie Potter is the boy who never grew up. Signed by Chris Wilder, he seemed to have a knack of scoring memorable goals including the winner at Wembley in 2010, one in the opening game of the season against Portsmouth and a JPT winner over Swindon. Lost his way under Michael Appleton. Moved to Wimbledon, then Northampton Town back with Wilder. Now at Billericay Town. If you want to feel old; he’s thirty.
Signed from MK Dons, played one game and leaves a legacy of being one of those players fans reference when trying to make an ironic point. Chugged along with MK Dons until 2018 when he joined Bracknell Town.
Perpetual bridesmaid centre-back, but one who put his heart and soul into everything he did. A graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University and brother of England Cerebral Palsy Goalkeeper Jordan, Raynes left for Mansfield, had a good couple of years at Carlisle before moving to Crewe. Currently on loan at Hartlepool.
A full-back signed on loan from Bolton, played over 30 games before joining Bury just as we thought we’d found a decent player. Signed for Shrewsbury in 2016, one of a number of players who became important to their unlikely promotion push in 2018. Left for Plymouth in the summer of 2018.
Perpetually the answer to all club’s goalscoring problems for three years, Roberts scored a couple of top class goals in about 30 games. His brother was tragically killed in a car accident in 2017, Roberts’ career slowed and stalled following a series of loans. Left in 2018 for Hereford.
Arrived from West Browm almost undercover in a blizzard of loan signings, initially Roofe looked like he was just another lightweight destined to disappear. Then scored two in a win over Wycombe and couldn’t stop scoring. Signed permanently in 2015/16 scoring over 25 goals as we were promoted to League 1, scored against Swindon and Swansea in the FA Cup. Bought by Leeds United for over £4m in 2016. After a bit of a slow start, grew to become an integral part of Leeds’ push for promotion to the Premier League.
Originally joined as a teenager in our first season in the Conference from Manchester United. Enjoyed promotion to the Football League with Newport and Aldershot before returning to Oxford in 2013. Chalked up over 80 games, but never really enjoyed a consistent run in the team. Briefly followed Chris Wilder to Northampton before moving to Portsmouth. Played a marginal role in their promotion to League 1. Went to Swindon on loan in January 2019. Urgh.
Signed from Coventry City as part of a policy of solving the club’s financing problems by nurturing youth. Ruffels became one of the squads most dependable players, winning promotion with the squad in 2016 and playing at Wembley twice. Still with the club where he’s enjoying an extended period in the team at a full-back.
The best defender in the land was signed in 2015 from Rotherham. Became an integral part of the promotion winning back-four, heroically playing through injury to get us over the line in 2016. Slowly fell out of favour and left to join Bury, his previous club, in 2017. Dogged by injury, he’s yet to play a dozen games in the in the two years he’s been at the club.
Played a mostly forgettable six games towards the end of the season, his only goal being a critical winner against Carlisle which was a great stride towards safety. Enjoyed a productive two years at Blackpool where he won promotion from League 2, joined Rotherham in 2018.
A grizzled old pro signed by Chris Wilder, all we wanted was a team of Andy Whings. Injuries and age slowly crept up on him, and he announced his retirement to take up a coaching role with the club in 2015. Left the club in 2017 to coach Kidderminster Harriers. Last year joined Coventry City as an academy coach.
Surly, mercurial centre-back Jake Wright joined in 2010, won promotion to the Football League. Led the team through Chris Wilder’s reign and the chaos that followed. Was Michael Appleton’s captain during the 2015/16 promotion season, voted best player of the first 10 years of Oxblogger that year. Left for Sheffield United in what looked like a reshuffle that had gone wrong. Enjoyed promotion to the Championship before injury limited his game time with the Blades.
The January transfer window is open, and keeping up is a bit of a pain, so rather than trying to write a new post with every rumour, I’ll keep updating this post with bits and pieces.
1 February: Jonte angle
NO WONDER IT’S SO BLOODY COLD, SOMEONE’S LEFT THE WINDOW OPEN!
The rules around transfer windows are complex, and while Mick Brown might have problems operating a fax machine, he has had no problem finding an obscure sub-clause called ‘Oh screw it, it’s only Oxford’. This has allowed us to make our fifth signing of the window, outside the window. Bermudan Jonte Smith has joined in what the club called ‘a low-risk’ signing from Lewes. This is either code for ‘proven goalscorer at this level’ or ‘really very cheap’. Which could it be?
Anyway, he seems very happy to have joined, so we’re happy to have him.
31 January: The Vaughan identity?
This is the denouement of a month exhilarating rumour mongering, the thrilling climax of the January transfer window. That is, if drilling your eye-sockets brings you to a thrilling climax. OK, let’s go:
When James Vaughan was called by his agent this morning and was told ‘you’re going down’, he assumed, like us, he was signing for Oxford. It turns out he was going down to the south coast, missing the junction off the A34 with the big brown football sign on it and heading straight to Portsmouth.
Still, after rumours lasting, ooh, nearly seven minutes, it was confirmed that Jerome Sinclair has signed on loan from Watford. “That’s not Antoine Greizmann” said Oxford fans experiencing expectation hyper-inflation your average Venezuelan greengrocer would describe as a bit toppy.
The Ivo Pekalski saga is rapidly becoming Oxford United’s Brexit; KRob is demanding things he has no power to enforce or that Pekalski has any incentive to accept. KRob’s unicorn solution was to tell the Swede to GET ANOTHER CLUB by the 8th January or face ‘lots of running’. 22 solid days on from a red line so passable, it might have been defecated by UKIPs racist-in-chief Gerard Batten, Pekalski is sitting tight asking for money to leave, KRob’s response is to not give it him so he’s going to, um, pay him his salary until the end of the season instead. That’ll show him.
The prospect of KRob’s ‘wow’ signing grew considerably smaller as the transfer window’s witching hour crept unrelentingly closer. We were linked with Bermudan international Jonte Smith from *adjusts glasses and reads at arms length like your mum trying to focus on a Chinese takeaway menu* Lewes. Lewes are currently in the *turns page, turns page, turns page, turns page, scans down* Isthmian League, which for those of you who don’t know is in 1974. Now, before you start scoffing, Smith was a big money signing for Lewes. He was paid for using funds raised through the club’s PayPal account. Seriously.
I know I’m not the only one who would willfully entrap Hylton in my basement, spend several hours rutting up against his bare thigh before flaying him from head to foot and smothering his entrails all over my naked torso, but calls for his return feel like a crowd appeasing populist move which can only end badly. But then, I’m still scarred by the Nigel Jemson’s second – eighteen games, no goals – spell with the club.
Meanwhile, up in the cold wastelands, ex-loanee, mini-goal grabber Conor McAleny, who ignored our advances to choose Fleetwood Town in 2017, has been slung over to Kilmarnock in the SPL to while away the remaining months of the season.
You know when you’re expecting a phone call and the phone doesn’t ring; so you pick it up to test if it’s working? Well, that was last week’s frenzied transfer news, a week that was so devoid of anything, we thought the something terrible had happened, like David Kemp delivering Brexit, or something.
Football fans are well known for their calm objectivity. The announcement that Cameron Norman had signed for Walsall was met with predictable circumspection. I think we can all agree that there has been an absolute barrage of calls for Norman to be returned to the team to arrest our alarming decline. Not on Twitter, it seems, Norman before the announcement there hadn’t been a single mention of Norman by any Oxford fan since the turn of the year.
You know when your mum texts you asking for your bank details so she can transfer your birthday money? And you know how the amount drops every year because she’s forgotten that you’re not nine anymore, that everything is more expensive than she thinks it is and that she’s forgotten how much she gave you last year?
And you know, that despite all this as soon as you get the text you start a process in your brain where the amount jumps by multiples of five with every passing minute until you convince yourself that for reasons that defy logic, she’s about to transfer at least £10,000 into your account.
And you know the feeling when you see the £25 in your bank serving no purpose but to make you fractionally less poor than you were just a few minutes previously? And that you make plans to buy a new pair of trainers knowing you’ll use it for Findus Crispy Pancakes, a four-pack of lager then put the rest towards the £45 you need for your mum’s birthday present next month?
Toni Martinez, Toonii Martinez, Toni Martinezzzz Toni Martinezzzzz
What. A. Tune.
We’re not sure what’s happening to the fondly remembered loanee and hero of That Minute at Middlesborough, but we do have news of namesake Emiliano Martinez.
Who? You might justifiably say. Well, according to the Oxford United dementia sufferers’ best friend, Rage Online, Emiliano (or Damian, as he was known back then) spent 90 minutes on loan at the end of the 2012 season when he conceded three at Port Vale.
The sword of Damocles hangs over Ivo Pekalski. Last week KRob donned a black hood, stripped to the waste and slathered grease over his curvaceous moobs threatening the Swede with ‘lots of running’ if he didn’t find a new club by Tuesday.
Kelleher is most famous at Oxford for being the player whose publicity photo became an analogy of the club’s silence over rumours that Michael Appleton was leaving in 2017. Since then he’s played for Solihull Moors and is currently on loan, along with every other Oxford player you’d forgotten about, at Macclesfield
7 January: Sam Surridge on the radar
Karl Robinson loves nothing more on Sundays than roasting a lump of meat and 10 vegetables; not unlike his Saturdays. He sacrificed it all this weekend to watch Cottagers exposing themselves in front of disbelieving onlookers in West London. Kinky.
‘Karl, what were you doing at Fulham?’ asked a hack with a line of questioning so crafty it could have spent the afternoon fashioning a full-sized Jamie Mackie out of macramé.
Robinson sees Surridge as an obvious replacement for Sam Smith, just with more goals. And shots. And touches of the ball. More importantly, he can use Smith’s monographed training kit; it’s not like it ever got dirty.
4 January: Ivo given the heave-ho
Karl Robinson has given Ivo Pekalski until 8 January to find a new club. He’s had a nightmare since Pep Clotet signed him. You might argue that as he spent Christmas in Sweden rather than in a futile fight for first team football given half the chance he would happily to leave by Tuesday, if not before. Robbo’s punishment for not achieving what everyone wants is for Ivo to listen to Charlie Pride’s Crystal Chandeliers on a loop while receiving Chinese burns from Faz. No, sorry, misread that, the consequence for the professional athlete trying to regain his fitness is ‘lots of running’. Talk about bringing a sponge to a knife fight.
Glenavon in the Irish Premier League have announced that we’ve signed their midfielder Mark Sykes who has played with Gavin Whyte in the Irish Under 21s. It seems he was heading for Port Vale, but, reassuringly we managed to outbid them. All this is subject to a medical and personal terms, whatever that actually means.
Not really related, but according to The Mirror Kemar Roofe has been targeted by Newcastle United. Whether Roofe will want to go from Leeds, who are top of the Championship and heading for promotion, to Newcastle, who are towards the bottom of the Premier League and maybe heading the other way, will depend on money, no doubt. I can’t find any references to sell-on fees we might be due, so it’s probably best to assume we’re not due a windfall.
29 December: Smith and McMahon to leave
A surprise to nobody is that Sam Smith is going back to Reading. Karl Robinson’s prize signing of the summer hasn’t really worked out, scoring a handful of goals in the Trophy that shall not be named, but little else. Tony McMahon, who has weighed in with a few assists here and there is heading back up north for personal reasons.
26 December: Jordan Graham on loan from Wolves
He’s been training with us for weeks, so nobody was shocked by Tiger’s ‘Christmas present’ announcing the signing of Jordan Graham on loan from Wolves. Graham had a brief spell with us in our promotion season, showing himself to be a classic Michael Appleton player. Since then, however, he’s managed just seven appearances in nearly four years due to injury. He could be the signing of the season or we may need to move Ricky Holmes on to make space in the physio’s room.
The truth is, most people were mentally prepared for Kemar Roofe’s departure long before it was announced he was heading for Leeds. Nobody in their right mind expected him to last the summer at the club, it was just a question of when, where and how much, not if he was going to leave.
The reality is that Michael Appleton managed to pull off that rarest of coups in Roofe’s capture; a player whose actual ability considerably out-performed his perceived ability. He wasn’t considered good enough for West Brom, but there were more than 60 clubs above Oxford who also failed to see his potential. Lots of players fail to live up to their potential, many simply meet it, few exceed it and fewer still by the distance Roofe did.
Increasingly in the modern game, the good players are identified quickly and early, they find their level and that is broadly where they stay. People point to Jamie Vardy’s career trajectory as proof that the game is full of hidden gems, but in truth there are 4,000 other professional footballers in the UK who broadly prove that this isn’t the case. The market always wins, but if you can beat it for just a short while, then you win big; in our case it’s been worth £3 million, a promotion and a bundle of memories.
Because of this Roofe held an odd place in a much loved squad. He scored Playstation goals, 30 yard drives, direct free-kicks, he was the magician in a tight game. He transcended the club; a media darling for the period immediately after his match winning brace against Swansea. He collected armfuls of awards. He even had a branded goal celebration.
I once read about the differences in goal celebrations now and in the past. Players nowadays are aware of TV cameras and adjust their celebrations to suit, whereas in the past celebrations were more spontaneous and visceral. Roofe was a player made to feature on TV, not in lower-league backwaters with nobody watching.
Songs were sung in his name, but he never had the bond Danny Hylton enjoyed with the fans and there wasn’t the same sense of proud ownership of someone like Callum O’Dowda.
He was almost too good, like Ronaldo with Portugal, Gareth Bale with Wales or, closer to home, Dean Windass with us in the mid-90s. Not really an Oxford player, more a transient, otherworldly character, whose stay with us was brief and fortuitous.
So, almost as soon as he signed permanently, it seemed almost inevitable that he was going to leave. Leeds is a perfect destination from our perspective because you sense money is plentiful and rationality less so. Commercially, that’s just the kind of people you want to do deals with. At £3 million, Roofe’s fee would be a big risk for most clubs, but if you have more money than sense, then who cares?
Whether it’s good for Roofe is open to debate, Leeds are a fly-or-die type club, you either succeed or you’re out. You only have to look at Roofe’s performances towards the end of last season where fatigue and fitness affected him to see that he is not yet the complete package. The fact his manager will be Garry Monk is some comfort in that his onus is on developing players, but how long will Monk survive with Leeds’ owner Massimo Cellino pulling the strings?
History will ultimately judge Roofe’s contribution to Oxford, but I suspect that he’ll never join the pantheon of greats in the way Matt Elliot or John Aldridge have. In return, I guess we’ll probably get less than a chapter in his autobiography. It was more a one-night-stand than a full blown marriage made in heaven. His time with us was just too brief to cement his legend and it will be a memory of the feelings rather than the actual moments themselves which will ultimately be Roofe’s lasting legacy.
The transfer window is opens and we’re in the unusual position of actually having players other clubs might want. For a club like us, that fills you with dread because there’s a sneaking suspicion that you won’t be able to replace them. It’s not as if we can just plough into the market and pick sign another Kemar Roofe. January is going to be an anxious month. So, who may be of interest to other teams, and what are the prospects of them going?
There’s a lot of hype around Roofe; he scores goals, spectacular ones, and he has two songs about him, apparently Newcastle United are interested. Roofe himself hasn’t been as prominent in recent weeks; partly because he’s playing on the wing rather than down the middle. Plus, while he’s quick and skilful, I’m not sure he’s that different to others out there; I’m no expert, but there’s a reason why West Brom put up so little fight to keep him. I don’t think Premier League clubs are going to take an interest, but I can see Championship clubs sniffing around. There was a suggestion that Hull might be interested, which I think sounds very credible as to the type of team that might try to sign him.
Sercombe’s surging runs through midfield give us a dimension we’ve not had in years, he also scores goals. One of those anonymous Twitter accounts said there were a few Championship clubs taking an interest. I can see why scouts may turn up to the Kassam to get a better look at Sercombe, but they’re watching players all the time. Again, I’m not sure; Sercombe has been on the scene for quite a while with 8 years at Exeter before coming to us. Are clubs going to take a punt based on half a season in a successful team? Plus, he’s on a contract and will cost a fee.
Lundstram was a bit of a surprise signing for us; he’s played at a good level for England and although he was injured, it wasn’t as if it was career threatening. An Everton fan friend of mine says he was well regarded at the Toffees and earmarked as another to roll off their talent conveyor belt into the first team like John Stones and Ross Barclay. I do think that in a sense we got lucky and he’s playing at a level below which he’s really capable. He’s still young and well schooled. I can’t quite see a clamour for his services, but I judicious financial bid may see him leave.
He’s one of our own; and he’s got the temperament and skill to forge a very successful career at the top of the game. Is he ready? We don’t play him regularly and Michael Appleton has mentioned a couple of times that he’s been left out of games because he’s exhausted. Clubs will certainly be interested in O’Dowda, I’ve no doubt about that. I don’t know about January, there’s an outside chance of someone buying and loaning back just to secure his services at a later date, but I don’t think he’s going to fill a gap in anyone’s first team at a higher level yet.
He’s not one of our own. Baldock is perhaps the best player in his position in League 2, perhaps in the bottom two divisions. Plus, while the club might be prepared to put up a fight to keep their names, they have no such option with Baldock. I can see a bid coming in for him from a team at League 1 or maybe even the Championship, and I can see MK Dons cashing in on him, because for reasons I can’t quite fathom, they don’t seem to want him. The question is, I suppose, if a bid does come in, will we take on the fight to keep him?
Nobody has talked about Appleton leaving, but a couple of managerial movements recently has got me thinking whether he might, eventually, fall into the frame somewhere. There’s no transfer window with a manager so there’s much more opportunity for him to move. He’s well schooled, of course, and well regarded. Has he shaken off any bad reputation gained from him time as Blackpool, Blackburn and Portsmouth… and even us last year? Also, will a team in trouble want an Appleton-type of coach to get them out of the crap? He’s proving a very good analytical coach, but sometimes failing clubs need more of a crisis manager to shake things up a bit. If you’re threatened with relegation, I would choose a Chris Wilder type over Appleton. However, it might be that a successful club with a good infrastructure further up the chain find themselves with a vacancy, I can see Appleton being approached in that situation.
I don’t really like the summer. I don’t relish the prospect of having to expose flesh. I don’t like the way the world slows down and cricket becomes the epicentre of excitement. I like the safety of layers of clothes, I like the tetchy-ness of the cold; the quickened pace to get everything done before the dark. Summer, for me, is really just preparation for winter. It is the close season.
The first month of the summer has been more exciting than the season itself. The euphemistically termed ‘retained list’ was released, which could just as easily be the redundancy list. That’s what it is. No major shocks there, I don’t think. There rarely are with these things as it simply acts as a method to discard the shrapnel of the squad. Those who are getting game-time are usually quite happy to get another couple of years. There’s always one or two that hang in the balance, in this case it appears to be Andy Whing.
I remember once telling someone that Barry Quinn wouldn’t be offered a contract in the summer and he started treating me like Ewoks treat C3P0. But it stood to reason; Quinn had been out for the season and it was fairly obvious the club wasn’t going to risk the guarantee of a couple more years. Same with Whing, he knows, we know, the club knows that he probably hasn’t got much left in the tank. I hope the club can find him something.
Wright, I’m pleased about, I think he gets a bad rap. He broods, but commands the respect of the squad. Just don’t ask him to play like Johan Cruyff as Appleton tried to do earlier in the season. Rose’s retention I’m less convinced about; his late season form was essential for our surge to safety, but it was out of character with the rest of his time at the club.
Then, unexpectedly, Kemar Roofe signs on a three year deal. I say unexpectedly, because I was expecting one of those long fruitless slogs, excuses about him being on holiday, or in the toilet, or on his way to sign before appearing in a Chesterfield shirt or some such. Mark Watson did it, Matt Green did it, surely Kemar Roofe was going to do it. But no, Michael Appleton wanted his business done early and that’s exactly what he’s done.
Roofe’s signature means we already have an interesting mix of strikers for next year; Roofe himself is the creative type, Hoban a battering ram who, I hope, will benefit from a proper pre-season. Hylton will let no-one down with his effort (although, as much as he was obviously the only choice as player of the season, it will be interesting to see whether he replicates his goalscoring next season. Goals haven’t been his strong point previously, last season’s total was a quarter of his entire decade long career haul). Finally we’ve got a goal poacher in James Roberts. As a mix of strikers, that’s as good as you can get in this division. Men for all seasons.
The signing of Ryan Taylor, then, was a bit of a surprise. In some ways, he is reminder of the risk of getting carried away with all of this. On one hand, he scored 10 goals last year, which is a respectable return at this level and would have proved handy had they been for us. He’s also a strong target man, which is often useful at this level.
However, on the other hand, I know about him because he looks like Dave Kitson. And he used to play for Portsmouth, who look like a Premier League team, when in reality, they are still wrestling the failures of their past, like everyone languishing in these pits of hell.
In other words, it’s a signing that looks like Dave Kitson from the Premier League, but is, in fact Ryan Taylor from League 2. A rough facsimile of something far better. That’s not to say that Taylor isn’t welcome or can be a success, but it’s easy to get carried away with how things immediately appear.
Of course, one of the challenges is getting the ball to these players in the first place, so the signing of Liam Sercombe seems like a solid choice. I don’t know much about him, but as a product of Paul Tisdale, he’s been well schooled and he’s knows how to get out of this league; which is, let’s face it, what it’s all about.