George Lawrence’s Shorts: The Clare switch project

Sunday 2nd August 2020

KRob is adopting a transfer policy that can be described as a ‘reverse Jack Charlton’ – no YOU’VE got a filthy mind. Having signed Gavin Whyte, Mark Sykes, Joel Cooper the O’Xford manager now appears to be showing an interest in Glentoran striker Paul O’Neill, described as being nearly as good as Pat Hoban. 

Monday 3rd August 2020

Nathan Holland has been named this year’s Young Hammer. It turns out that Young Hammer is not the name of a recently deceased minor league rapper, but an award for the West Ham player who has spent nearly half the season not at West Ham and made a name for himself in a team which is resolutely not West Ham. 

KRob’s been talking, again, about Cameron Brannagain, again, and about how he hopes he’ll sign a new contract, again. KRob’s a big Cam Bran fan and thinks Cam’s the man, he doesn’t know if he can land Cam, but if he can keep Cam, there’s a deal Cam can sign. 

Tuesday 4th August 2020

Cheltenham have been looking for a man with broad shoulders to carry them to promotion next season, and there are no shoulders broader than those of Liam Sercombe who has signed for them after leaving Bristol Rovers.

In other 2016 alum news; Kemar Roofe has left Anderlecht to sign for Rangers. Roofe, who has had an injury ravaged season in Belgium, is hoping to fire the ‘Gers to within forty points of Celtic in the battle to pretend Scottish football is not in need of urgent reform.

Wednesday 5 August 2020

GLS spent a lovely fortnight in Corfu with Sean and Clare, a honeymooning couple who were an absolute hoot. Wherever Sean and Clare went, GLS made sure he went – the all you can eat buffet, the day trip to the Achilleion Palace, karaoke night with Sarg from TOWIE; they couldn’t separate us, even when GLS was threatened with souvlaki skewers. We’re all going to meet up again soon, they said, three years ago. Anyway, it turns out the Sean and Clare are signing for Oxford from Hearts. GLS hearts Sean and Clare.  

It appears Kane Hemmings is seeking out a new career as a coronavirus vector. Holidaying in the travel restricted Balearic Islands, he’s decided to quit Dundee to head south to seek pastures new. We hope these are pastures that are sparsely populated for the next 10-14 days. 

Thursday 6 August 2020

Big Ron Atkinson managed Manchester United, Steve McLaren managed England and Alex Dyer manages Kilmarnock. The roster of former Yellows who have fostered an above average managerial career is almost limitless, almost, but also largely limited to those three. Another has joined their number with the news Simon Marsh has been appointed Thame United Under 15 Boys manager.

The club have announced that Singha will no longer sponsor Oxford’s shirts. There had been hope that to extend the deal beyond two years, but hopes were scuppered when Singha couldn’t sell their sewing machines in the stadium concourses.

Sean and Clare still haven’t replied to GLS’ 14 texts, which is such a Sean and Clare thing to do, but in other news, the club have signed Sean Clare from Hearts.

Friday 7th August 2020

In a twist more surprising than finding out Andy Whing wants to be known by the pronouns Her/Them – what? You hadn’t heard? – Cameron Brannagain has signed a contract extension to 2023. Cam Bran loves the fans and the fans love Cam Bran. KRob’s loves his nan and Cam Bran’s in his plan

Elsewhere, the British Tsun Dai; Robbie Cundy has gone on loan to Cambridge from Bristol City.

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+.

Midweek Fixture: The 2016 JPT Final team – where are they now?

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?

Benji Büchel

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.

Jonjoe Kenny

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.

Chey Dunkley

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.

Jordan Evans

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.

Alex MacDonald

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.

Josh Ruffels

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.

Liam Sercombe

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.

Callum O’Dowda

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.

Kemar Roofe

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.

Danny Hylton

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.

Substitutes:

Sam Slocombe

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.

Jake Wright

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.

Sam Long

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.

Josh Ashby

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.

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.

Sercombe – slight reprise

So, Michael Appleton is playing hardball with Liam Sercombe’s contract by triggering an automatic extension clause. The motivation, pretty obviously, is to prevent Sercombe being free to leave when his contract expires. Or more specifically, to retain his registration, which is what has really value as it’s not likely that he’s actually going to play.

As a tactic, it’s an obvious thing for the club to do; it gives them a degree of control in a world where players, good players, are often king. From the club’s perspective, it’s about managing your assets. Without a stadium, the club need to manage what has more closely and carefully.

It’s possible that the unilateral triggering on the clause is a root cause for the disciplinary issue which has resulted in Sercombe being cast aside. Sercombe will understandably want as much control over his future as he can get but, in fact, he’ll feel imprisoned by an agreement made in happier times. The fact that one side can trigger such a clause is the fault of whoever negotiated the contract on Sercombe’s behalf but that’s likely to be of no comfort.

Rather than negotiating the best deal for him and his family, Sercombe, you might assume, will have to go through proper channels to gain permission to talk to other clubs. That means his own options are more limited to those who are prepared to meet whatever price the club place on the players’ head. There were rumours that he might go back to Exeter, but that’s not really his decision anymore.

Not that it’d be looking at a lot of money to prize him away from the club; it’s clear that Sercombe has lost favour at Oxford, which is hardly likely to bump his price up. Plus, his own motivation is likely to be severely limited, the longer it goes on, the less likely he going to want to play, and the less likely it is that the club will want to play him. Other clubs will know this so will surely be pretty happy to play a waiting game. The longer that goes on, the lower Sercombe’s price drops.

Sercombe is clearly a very good League 2 player and pretty solid in League 1. There will be clubs who will want his goals and commitment, but at 28 they are unlikely to be investing in an asset with with much resale opportunity in the way we have with, say, Curtis Nelson. None of this suggests we’re talking big numbers.

Unless, of course, Oxford set a price, truly dig their heels in and refuse to budge. Then they are left with a player that they have to pay for another year and that they can’t get rid of because nobody will meet their valuation. At that point it risks becoming a spiteful war of attrition, but one, ultimately, nobody can win. Sercombe won’t want to stagnate for a year in the margins and we don’t want to have to pay for a player who isn’t going to have an impact on the pitch.

Which would lead us to the same kind of situation the club faced with Eddie Hutchinson back in 2008. Hutchinson was considered surplus to requirements and not registered to play, but he couldn’t find another club and was left on the sidelines. An administration error meant that when he was needed Hutchinson played without being registered which resulted in a points deduction that cost us a place in the Conference play-offs for that season.

It seems unlikely that such a blunder is going to happen this one, but the club doesn’t want to end up lumbered with a player it won’t play but it has to pay. It’s a tricky balancing act.

Any other business – Six transfer window flight risks


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?

Kemar Roofe

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.

Liam Sercombe

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.

John Lundstram

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.

Callum O’Dowda

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.

George Baldock

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?

Michael Appleton

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.