George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: Zebroski’s away goals count trouble

Sunday 2 June 2019

There was a Twitter takeover on Chris Zebroski’s socials this weekend. The Big Zebroski was on loan from Millwall in 2007 contributing a missed penalty in the Conference play-off semi-final defeat to Exeter City. He’ll be expecting more penalties after he met someone called Layla, who got him on his knees (probably). He’ll ‘be begging darling please’ after his wife tweeted from his account a series of incriminating messages between the man she is soon to call her ex and the women she called ‘Ugly Fat C***’ Layla’; which coincidentally was the working title of the Eric Clapton classic whose lyrics are painfully laced throughout this paragraph. Despite her posh quadruple barrelled name, we doubt she’ll ‘ease his worried mind’.

And in other news, Zebroski doesn’t have Twitter anymore.

Monday 3 June 2019

The club used Josh ‘Ruffles’ Ruffels to reveal next season’s home kit; thereby labelling him the player good enough to get game-time next season, but not good enough to be sold before August. According to the Puma marketing drones, the design includes a sublimated flux, which is either the faulty component of the Delorean in Back to the Future or the unintended consequence of consuming a jar full of pickled cucumbers.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

First West Brom now Middlesbrough are reported to be wafting a plate of smoked kippers in an attempt to lure Christophé Wïlldê back into the Championship. Wïlldê is unhappy that off-the-field problems may scupper Sheffield United’s relegation preparations and reports suggest that Boro are desperate to be brought down a bit after a year of Tony Pulis’ special brand of miserablism.

Wednesday 5 June

The club have announced that they’re to play a prestige friendly against Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers. If you’re not familiar with Scottish football, it’s a bit like The Conference, if two of the teams had a massive hang up about 5th century Scottish church reform. The Tax Avoidance Derby also offers an opportunity for entrepreneurial photographers to get KRob and Steven Gerrard pictures, which would make a great ‘before and after’ shot when promoting dangerous weight loss pills on the web.

Thursday 6 June

John Mousinho may be about to follow his dad Jose into management as KRob has told him that he won’t play much next season despite an appearance related contract extension. That’s like doing your marriage vows then leaning across to your beloved and whispering ‘that’s all just a figure of speech, right?’ KRob would like to offer Mousinho the opportunity to become a player-coach, or as he’ll be known ‘a coach’, or to use its technical term; cone management technician.

Friday 9 June

Grab a spatula, this news barrel won’t scrape itself. The club’s Head of Star Jumps Chris Short has signed a new contract for next season. Short, who is as handsome and rugged as Bear Grylls’ arsehole, is credited with improving the team’s fitness leading to a slew of 94th minute winners in the closing weeks of the season. He’ll be working on improving the other 93 when the players get back together in a few weeks.

Saturday 8 June

We’re assuming it was due to the relentless jumping about in silver drainpipes and orange winklepickers, but the Oxford United Jedward Gavin Sykes and Mark Whyte, or whatever, were split up for Northern Ireland’s game against Estonia. Whyte – who Sky reckoned is now worth £4 million – made his first competitive start for the national team in their 2-1 win whereas Sykes didn’t make the bench.

Oxford United kit review 2016/17

As well as a cynical money-making exercise, new kit launches have become part of the normal cycle of the close season.

This season the club are going with the thematic ‘New Era’, which depending on your mood is either a simple reflection of the club playing in League 1 for the first time in 15 years, or the signal of a more radical, and for the die-hards, gut wrenching change of direction.

Darryl Eales is clearly no Assem Allam wanting to change his club’s name, or Vincent Tan wanting to change the shirt colour or Pete Winkelman, changing the club’s location, but he is the owner and he hasn’t been afraid to radically change things over the last two years. So, who knows what ‘New Era’ means?

Last season’s shirt was unashamedly retro, celebrating 30 years of the Milk Cup win. I wasn’t a fan of the original, it was too pale and I didn’t like the shadow stripes, so the reboot didn’t do much for me. It is understandable, however, how the designs have taken on new meaning given the successes of last year.

Such reverential nod to the past added to a wildly successful season should give Eales more licence to change the club to his vision. After all, Oxford fans literally let Robert Maxwell rob their grannies for success. 

Late last season the emergence of Oxford/Headington half-and-half scarves raised a theory that the club might revert to its original colours of old-gold. But Eales is a Birmingham fan, and it seemed unlikely that he would want to watch his club running around looking like Blues’ rivals Wolves.

The club also ran a Twitter poll about past kits with the Adidas yellow and royal-blue offerings of the 80’s being wildly backed. For me, having grown up with the club playing in those colours this would have been perfectly acceptable. But, you only have to think back to the last post-promotion kit in 2010/11 – the 1975-inspired striped shirt – to see how sensitive people are to change.

The grand reveal on Monday unveiled a kit which throws together references to glories past while at the same time creating something entirely new. Either this is very clever design or it shows that designers have basically run out of ideas.

The yellow and navy is loyally retained with a pinstripe that harks back to the club’s back-to-back titles in the mid-80s. The sleeves with the thick yellow trim is lifted directly from the 1996 promotion shirt.

The simple Ox’s head is now our ‘official’ badge despite having worn it for the last year. The pinstripe stops just above the head to allow it space before continuing directly below it. I like that, it shows a shirt which is designed to have a badge. Details, it’s all in the details.

Call me shallow, but last year’s unbranded shirt left it looking a bit cheap, and so the Starter logo gives it more balance aesthetically. Starter, who make what is now known as athleisurewear, have their roots in US Sports rather than football. Their logo is on what is apparently now known as ‘snapbacks’ or more simply ‘hats’ in the club shop and it first appeared on the JPT final shirt. It seems to suggest that Starter helped with the sourcing of the design rather than actually manufacturing it themselves. The benefit seems to be that we’ve got much closer to what we actually want rather than having to be a slave to Nike’s ‘England in different colours’ templates.      

If football kits are art, which they’re not, then this shirt continues a narrative of a club which is both a product of its history and forward looking at the same time. Ultimately, seasons make the shirt, not the other way around but, from a pure design perspective, it’s one of the best we’ve had.

Shirt changed

Football fans seem to suffer from acute attention deficit disorder; during the season each Saturday, regardless of previous results, fans wake up ‘buzzing’ for the day ahead. You can be 10 points adrift at the bottom of the table without a win in 15 games, but it’s Saturday and Saturday is FOOTBALL DAY.

During the close season, there’s a well-rehearsed series of close season Christmases – fixture launch day, first pre-season friendly day, new signing day. Each is greeted with the same euphoric sense of orgasmic pleasure as the last. Last week we had KIT LAUNCH DAY!

It wasn’t always like this; in days gone by kits broadly stayed the same from one year to the next. A change of manufacturer might result in a different collar, or a switch from a round neck to a v-neck. There wasn’t a culture of fans wearing shirts and clubs couldn’t see the money making opportunities that could come from changing.

Then, in the early 70s, things started to change; manufacturers started to recognise the benefit of advertising themselves through their designs; none more so than Adidas with their iconic three stripes. In the mid-80s things shifted again; I guess it was a breakthrough in technology. Kit designs got more elaborate and intricate. Oxford’s kit, previously a plain yellow with an Adidas stripe, switched manufacturer and gained pin-stripes. You could buy copies in the club shop. Over the next 30 years, kits changed with increasing frequency; first it alternated annually between changes to the home shirt, then the away shirt, and then, eventually, every season both home and away shirts were changed.

We now comply with this custom, we look forward to it, even though it’s a tax on our loyalty. We are expected to buy it, year in, year out. We don’t change our kit because it doesn’t work, it’s because there’s something in our brain which creates an anxiety that challenges our perceptions of loyalty by not being up to date. It’s a bit like that bloke you occasionally sit next to who asks whether Alfie Potter or Joey Beauchamp is still playing for us. He’s not a proper fan. For some it’s exploitative, for others, like me, we are knowingly exploited, and some resist the whole charade as the scam it is.

This year’s kit has been launched and, well, it’s OK. Truth is, I never really liked the original; we were promoted in 1984 and 1985 in bright yellow and royal blue, with a pinstripe; Division 1 saw a shift to yellow and navy, the darker blue which we’ve become accustomed to is a relatively recent change. The yellow itself was washed out and it had this shadow hoop effect with shiny bits. It was far from an aesthetic classic and just seemed to be a product of the death throes of a golden age of kit innovation. The kit after that – launched in 1987 – was a misfortunate attempt at multi-toned yellow and white stripes, years before Newcastle were ridiculed for it.

It has, of course, acquired legendary status due to the Milk Cup win in 1986, but as a classic design, it was nothing special. The 2015/16 reboot is completely logical in a season that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Milk Cup win it’s good to see the club trying to capitalise on that. In the past these anniversary celebrations have been surprisingly muted given that there’s much commercial capital to be made from it.

The club are manufacturing their own this year, not quite back to the heady days of Manor Leisure, but a step in that direction. It’s only recently that I realised that kits were typically blank templates which were used by teams all over the world. I thought it was all tailored to us alone. But, there’s something about not having a manufacturer’s logo on which cheapens the design – that’s probably what hundreds of billions of dollars of advertising spend does distorting you into thinking a logo is a, probably fictitious, assurance of quality.

It’s also an excellent move from the club – although I imagine the process of manufacturing your own kit is a grand pain in the backside. In recent years the templates we’ve adopted can range from £10-£15 without a badge, presumably less for bulk. But that includes the manufacturer and distributor costs and profit; buying straight from the factory must push the unit price down considerably. When you’re retailing at £40, that’s a lot of profit.

In 1986, the kit was made by Umbro; a switch from Spall Sports, the Cabrini, Carlotti or Avec of the 80s. Umbro made the England and Scotland kit, at the time. They were a proper, grown up kit maker, with a proper heritage. It seemed like a genuine graduation into the big time. Not carrying a manufacturer feels like a step down; it looks like one of those not-quite-replica vintage kits that clubs now sell. In fact, we’ve been selling one of those for 1986 for the last three years – if this does become a classic, goodness knows what the not-quite-replica version will look like in 2020.

I suppose part of me laments the lack of visceral excitement of a genuinely new and exciting design; something that looks like it’s ours, and at the same time, not like ours. I’m still a sucker for the 2010/11 striped number, an update of 1975, a counter cultural classic, even though most seemed to dislike it. But most kits before and since are little more than a rearrangement of navy panelling and piping on a yellow fabric. Admittedly it’s not a broad canvas to work from; maybe we should give up trying to innovate something so limited.

Ultimately, the kit doesn’t define the year, the year defines the kit. The 1986 ‘classic’ is a classic because of Wembley, as is the 2010s vintage. So, the kit is fine, it’s not a problem, it doesn’t do much for me, but if we did get promoted, then that will probably change.

Next season’s new kit: the beginning of the end of yellow and blue?

My childhood ended when I realised that our kit wasn’t our own, it was just a generic template with a badge on it. I was 37. This revelation means it’s far easier to predict what next seasons’ kit will look like. By a process of elimination, it may well look like this.
It’s not often that this blog can provide a scoop, but I can exclusively reveal our playing kit for 2013/14. 
Probably. 
Only when we changed our kit supplier in 2009 did I realise that kits weren’t exclusively designed for your club. Sure, I realised that manufacturers had a common style, but it never dawned on me that professional clubs simply picked their design from a catalogue and whacked a badge and sponsor on it. That’s what park teams did.
The dawning came when Nike replaced Carlotti as our manufacturer. Firstly, when it was announced all the talk was of the distributors Just Sport and secondly; this was Nike. I somehow couldn’t envisage Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder walking around Beaverton talking to Nike design drones about fabric swatches.
It stands to reason, of course, companies like Nike can produce millions of these shirts and resell the design around the world. They’re not going to rely on the sales from the Oxford United club shop to make a profit from a single design.
So why is this the new kit? Well, there are some basic assumptions here, the first is that we’re staying with Just Sport. Their website has 12 different templates; broadly speaking most of them are either plain – as with this season, or striped, like 2010/11. Assuming that the club need to introduce something that’s sufficiently different, then we can discount all the plain shirts. Also, perhaps we can assume that the club will avoid another outcry by having a striped shirt. The shorts and socks are colours that go with the shirt in a design different to last  year. This is basically what you’re left with when you discount all the other options.
Just Sport have Adidas, Puma and Nike shirts in stock; and this is the only yellow and blue template that we haven’t used. There are a few yellow and black versions; this seasons shirt has a black swoosh, the other designs make this more obvious.

Admittedly, there might be some new templates in the offing; but of the four on this website, only this one is yellow and blue, or blue and yellow. A nice second strip, perhaps.

I quite like the version I’ve put together using Nike’s kit building thingy on their website. I have a soft spot for the lighter blue because it reminds me of the club I began supporting. The Unipart logo is just me kicking it old school, I don’t have an exclusive on our new sponsor.
Significantly, however, what happens in the future? It stands to reason that manufacturers want to cover a maximum number of teams in a minimum number of designs. Red and blue feature heavily, as does white and the striped combinations of Barcelona, Inter and AC Milan. The yellow options are combined with either with black or green, presumably a nod towards Brazil. By and large that’s it. There aren’t many other yellow and blue options, and it doesn’t seem likely that Nike will pull out the stops to preserve our traditions next year.

There’s no reason to believe that the club won’t continue to seek the most economical option when choosing their kit. Presumably Nike are competitive from a price perspective, and the quality is good. If we do stay with them, or the other Just Sport suppliers; we won’t have a yellow and blue option next year. Will the club have to consider moving to yellow and black just to give us options. There’s some historical precedent, of course, but it will jar with many.

An alternative is to switch manufacturers, there may be options available, there may even be the option to create a design that’s more specifically tailored for us. But, one this is for sure, the future of Oxford United playing in yellow and blue is far from certain.

Comment: The new kit

Like all good scandals; like Sachs-gate and everything Chris Morris has done for the last 15 years, the new kit furore started sometime before most had seen anything of it.

Many seem to be suffering some acute cognisant dissonance as a result of its release. Well, as we’re all in this together, let’s work through some of the issue. C’mon, you’re in a safe place now; let’s talk.

The first accusation is that this change is commercially motivated. The wildest conspiracy is that it’s a grand set-up to nail BMW as a future sponsor. The influence of Bridle and that the club’s own commercial necessities are driving the change seems, at least, plausible.

Shirt sales are a key income stream. And income pays for players. The club has a new sponsor and to maximise that income, it’s in everyone’s commercial interest to change the design. The alternative would be to keep last season’s kit, get less sponsorship income and get hammered for expecting fans to shell out for the same kit with a different sponsor. Or not sign Alfie Potter and Jake Wright.

The biggest single issue is the design itself. Specifically, the lack of yellow. The issue is compounded the fact it’s stock Nike kit. Had there been a line in this year’s accounts for several thousands pounds on a unique kit design people would be apoplectic at the wastefulness. The stock kit option is entirely practical. Let’s assume the club needed to change the kit (for the commercial reasons above). A minor change from one plain shirt to another would have invited severe criticism. Something noticeably different was needed – but Nike only do two significantly different yellow and blue shirts – the one we got and one with light blue sleeves. On balance the stripes are better.

The criticism centres on our heritage; this argument is bunk. I don’t hear people complaining that it doesn’t have train tracks on the sleeve like in 93/94 or a feint ox’s head embossed into the abdomen area as in 94-96. And why oh why are we not sticking with our traditional yellow and white stripes from our top flight years of ’87-’89? The kit evolves, as is has done from the orange with white ‘v’ from 1921.

Another criticism is that we can’t call ourselves ‘yellows’ and can’t sing songs about it. Because accuracy has always been an important part of Oxford songs – might I lead you in a few bars of ‘we are the London Road’?

The most insulting criticism is that there is a disconnection between the decision makers from the fans. This club hasn’t been this unified for decades. It has Jim’s Smith and Rosenthal providing spiritual guidance to Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder. Perhaps the fans would like for these four to tender their resignation in shame? Let’s grow up and get on with it.

Personally, as someone who would ideally prefer that we had an entirely plain yellow shirt that never changed, I struggled a little with the idea of it changing radically. However, I recognise the need to keep the money coming in and that it’s healthy to break the mould sometimes. I also quite like the shirt from 74/75, which was very similar. And, (any many have said this) having seen it in the flesh, it isn’t nearly as alien as it initially appears. The yellow bands shine out from the navy and it does actually look like an Oxford kit. I like it.

News round-up: new kit gets a big tick

I made a decision some time ago not to buy Nike due to its suspect record in immoral working practices. It wasn’t an easy decision; back in simpler times I had a pair Nike trainers that saved me from a beating by the local school bully/breakdancer. It’s a brand I have a lot to thank for.

Oxford United, of course, is a brand I can stand by even though it’s done much more damage to me personally than Nike ever did. The fact the two have come together for the new home shirt presents me with a dilemma.

There has been an overhaul of the club’s visual identity in the last six months. No longer are we presented with the amateur visuals of nasty Photoshop composits. Now we’ve got a serif font and conservative colourways. It’s more classic, confident and professional.

Some will mock the club’s attempt to attend to its visual identity in a way the top clubs do (note the ‘we’re ready for business’ team shot). Apparently there was particular derision amongst snooty non-league nerds who want to see ‘real football’ being playing in front of one man and a dog and the players smoking tabs in the bar after the game.

Nike (distributed via JustSport or not) fits with the club’s re-branding. Yes, I know it’s just a bog standard Nike team kit with our badge on it. But we’ve got much higher chance of getting some quality output this season if there’s quality input in everything we try to do. If that means sacrificing a couple of Mexican migrants for promotion, then I for one, am right behind it.