Long read: The longest year… Oxford United in 2000/01

The longest year… Oxford United in 2000/01

Prologue

Where to begin? What about Matt Murphy’s come-to-bed eyes? It’s about 3.40pm on 25 November 2000 and Oxford United’s go-to scapegoat Matt Murphy, is suggestively wrapped around a goalpost he grabbed to stop him careering into the London Road. He’s just rounded the Notts County ‘keeper and tapped home to make it 2-0 in front of a shocked home support. It’s not even half-time, we’re winning, and comfortably. I’m standing in the London Road, this is it, after months of trauma, months of misery, we’ve turned the corner. It’s all coming together.

Murphy looks up and his eyes meet mine, did he just raise his eyebrows suggestively? Like he’s enticing me into his footballing boudoir? It is a moment of grand hubris on his part, we’re bottom of the table with two wins and two draws all season; eight points from a possible 57; and suddenly Murphy is acting like he’s personally got it all under control. But, I’m ready to follow this lothario wherever he wants to take me. 

And yet an hour later, I’m heading home sans Murphy and we’ve lost 3-2.

But, let’s go back and set the scene; it’s the start of a new millennium. Oxford United, with the feint echoes of winning the Milk Cup and playing in the top-flight still ringing in their ears, are reeling from the death of its wealthy benefactor Robert Maxwell in 1991. In 1997 they’re plunged into even greater peril. Two years prior the club’s new, well-intentioned, owner Robin Herd achieved what a generation of owners before him couldn’t. He secures planning permission for a new stadium. When the investment dries up the contractors walk off the site and the club are faced with losses amounting to £12,000 a week on top of a £13m debt and the maintenance of a rusting carcass of a stadium in Minchery Farm on the edge of Oxford. 

In April 1999, mysterious hotelier Firoz Kassam buys the club and all its debt. Kassam appears quiet and unassuming and is paraded around The Manor as the saviour with an Oxford scarf around his neck. A successful man in every sense, he still looks uncomfortable, football is clearly not his setting. Kassam is one of the richest people of Asian descent in the country and a regular in the Time 100 rich list. He has the backing of Oxford’s fan groups, it seems the club will not only survive, it’s ready to thrive.

In 2000 Denis Smith returns to the club he steered to promotion four years earlier. While Kassam battles all-comers to get the construction work re-started, the blight on the team becomes a vice-like grip around the club’s throat. At the end of the 1999/00 season they narrowly avoid relegation to the 4th tier for the first time since 1964. The season is hideous and its end comes as a blessed relief. The spring sun offers little respite from the battle ahead; to stay in the division, to find a new home and stay in existence. This is the story of what comes next. Strap in, it’s going to get very dark, very quickly.

It’s 4th May 2000.

May 2000

With the final embers of a tortuous season still glowing, over 6,000 fans arrive at The Manor for Mike Ford’s testimonial. Goals from Chris Hackett, Derek Lilley and Jim Magilton give Oxford a 3-2 win over a young Manchester United team. It’s a rare moment of light where there is otherwise a darkening mood. The return of players like Matt Elliot and Phil Gilchrist feel like the ghosts of the club’s past coming back to haunt us. Ford later announces that the game is his last as a professional footballer.

The current squad is a ramshackle assemblage of panic buys, bargain bucket nomads and fading stars from the mid-nineties. Nine are out of contract including the iconic Joey Beauchamp and Canadian international defender Mark Watson. Watson’s contract is particularly complicated; Canada’s lengthy 2002 World Cup qualifying programme means he could miss a big proportion of the season. The club, hardly known for their largesse, aren’t keen on investing in a player who won’t be there. 

Former Chelsea midfielder Eddie Newton, who helped steady the listing ship in the latter stages of last season opts to head for China to see out his career. Or at least that’s what’s reported, he doesn’t seem to have ever made it, reappearing briefly at Barnet before retiring. Meanwhile giant Swedish goalkeeper, and fan favourite ‘porn star’ Pal Lundin is released. Also shown the door is Nigel Jemson after a dismal second spell with the club in which he played thirteen games without scoring. 

A week later, groundsman Mick Moore tears his ligaments in a freak accident when defender Phil Whelan yanks his leg awkwardly in a taxi on their way to the PFA Awards Dinner in London. The incident, which is described as ‘high-jinks’ puts Moore on crutches just as his busy summer preparing the pitch for next season gets underway. 

There’s some good news as the club receives special dispensation to use The Manor for another season. Had their licence not been renewed they would have only been permitted to use The Manor’s 2,800 seats and not its crumbling terrace. That would have made it unusable for the upcoming campaign, so the news is a big relief to Firoz Kassam, who is racing to complete the new stadium before the authorities grow tired of the club’s incompetence.

Despite avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth, and to the dismay of many fans, Denis Smith, fresh from his own 1-year contract extension, offers new deals to the glacially slow defensive pairing Phil Whelan and Steve Davis. Goalkeeper and fan favourite Richard Knight, who has been released by Derby, is offered a contract after completing an impressive loan spell. Off the pitch legendary midfielder ‘mad dog’ Mickey Lewis is confirmed as Smith’s number two.

June 2000

With contracts still outstanding, Smith begins the process of rebuilding his beleaguered squad. The work appears to get off to a flier; Richard Knight accepts his offer and Smith announces the imminent arrival of Darren Byfield, a young striker from Aston Villa with a reputation for pace and most importantly, goals.

Meanwhile in Florida, striker Derek Lilley, on holiday with his family, is held up at gunpoint. The gunman and an accomplice burst into the family’s apartment one evening. The family are forced into the toilet and the gunman, appearing to panic, puts his weapon to the head of Lilley’s five-year-old son. Money, about $15-$20, is, thankfully, all they lose and the family returns to England straight after. Denis Smith assures fans that the ordeal won’t affect Lilley who has been subject to transfer speculation due to his commute from Yorkshire. “You can get over anything in life,” Smith said dismissively. “It was a nasty experience, but with something like that you just think how unlucky you were that it should happen to you.” He couldn’t be more wrong as Lilley’s daughter suffers night terrors and his wife grows homesick. While he stays at the club, his mind is elsewhere.

Bizarrely, to those who only ever saw Steve Davis as a last resort for Denis Smith, the defender has written to the club formerly turning down their contract offer. Even the players we don’t want to play for us don’t want to play for us. Then, at the eleventh hour, the player we most definitely do want to welcome, Darren Byfield, opts to join Walsall. It’s a major blow for Smith who desperately needs to bring goals into the squad.

There’s better news from Joey Beauchamp, who had been subject to speculation linking him to Reading. Despite the opportunity to move to a club with stability and ambition, it looks like the winger may stay at The Manor after all. Days later, there’s another blow as club captain Les Robinson leaves after signing a two-year deal as player-coach at Mansfield Town. After 453 games and 10 years of impeccable service, Robinson’s departure leaves a gaping hole that’s going to be hard to fill.

And then another turnaround; it’s announced that Joey Beauchamp may be leaving after all; he’s in two minds about whether to join Reading or stay with the club. Money isn’t the issue with Reading offering £1000 per week more, but Beauchamp’s previous experiences at West Ham and Swindon make him reluctant to take the step. As if one transfer saga isn’t enough; the protracted contract talks of Mark Watson also look set to drag on. The club are wrestling to reconcile Watson’s commitment to his national team and the need for him to be available to play league football. There’s more World Cup woe as hapless striker Steve Anthrobus is in the frame to take part in Barbados’ campaign to make it to Japan and Korea.

Elsewhere, Firoz Kassam has won another case in his battle to get work started on the new stadium; a covenant preventing alcohol sales in a half mile radius around the nearby Blackbird pub is removed by the high court. It’s a small victory, as there remains a judicial review into the permission to allow a cinema on the Minchery Farm site.  

The Beauchamp deal goes on ice as he heads off on holiday with Jamie Cook to think about it. Denis Smith, who has been linked with the vacant job at Gillingham, threatens to withdraw the offer, releasing funds for other players. Meanwhile, youngsters Rob Folland and Jamie Cook turn down their contract offers.

Phil Whelan, fresh from putting groundsman Mick Moore in hospital, signs for Southend United after turning down his contract offer. With Les Robinson leaving, and Mark Watson and Steve Davis both undecided about their futures, the Oxford backline, brittle at the best of times, looks decimated. Chartlon Athletic also confirm an interest in left-back Paul Powell. The news can’t be helping Denis Smith’s mood as he recovers from back surgery.

It’s not just on the field that things are falling apart; off it, physio John Clinkard leaves the club after 12 years to join Wimbledon, he’s replaced by Neil Sullivan.

Things start looking up towards the end of June as Denis Smith finally makes his first signing of the summer bringing in John Robertson from Ayr United. This is quickly followed with the news Joey Beauchamp, back from holiday, is due to sign. Mark Watson is still a maybe. The month closes with the signing of Ian McGuckin from Fulham and Manny Omoyimni from West Ham. 

Omoyimni is a particularly interesting character; in 1999 he was on loan from West Ham at Gillingham, playing for them in the League Cup. On returning to Upton Park, he features as a substitute for West Ham against Aston Villa in their quarter-final tie. It’s a breach of the competition’s rules which results in their exclusion from the competition.

July 2000

At the start of July, South African goalkeeper Andre Arendse triggers a clause in his contract allowing him to leave the club. With Richard Knight signed up, Arendse’s prospects for the season have become limited and he also has to consider his World Cup prospects. His time at the club has been uncomfortable, seemingly too lightweight for a lower league dogfight in a failing team. 

In yet another twist, Mark Watson goes missing in Canada. The Oxford Mail eventually track him down and find out that the club have been negotiating with the wrong agent. Watson claims that the agent Denis Smith has been talking to barely talks to the player and that he should, in fact be talking with his girlfriend. Clearly someone is lying. Back home, it looks like the manager is giving up and moving on, inviting Welsh Under 21 defender Lee Jarman to join the squad at their south coast pre-season camp.

Firoz Kassam continues to make progress on the new stadium as an objection by developers, Pentith, who disagree with the plan to build a cinema at the stadium, is withdrawn. It’s a major obstacle removed from the process. And then, another blow. Morrells raise an objection to the removal of the covenant preventing the sale of alcohol around the Blackbird pub. The objection throws the viability of the new stadium back into doubt. FOUL – Fighting for Oxford United’s Life – organise a boycott of Morrells pubs.

Kassam’s hotel business is exposed by The Observer, The London Park Hotel is described as a hostel from hell for refugees rife with gang violence and crime. The continental breakfast is to die for.

With the first pre-season game on the horizon, Steve Anthrobus heads out to Barbados for a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Anthrobus’ first season with the club saw him score just two goals; the first of which was on his debut on the opening day of the season. It’s been seven months since he found the net making him an unlikely candidate for a World Cup campaign. For Denis Smith, securing his squad must feel like nailing jelly to the wall, he signs Lee Jarman on a monthly contract after missing out on other targets while the Mark Watson deal remains up in the air. Still. 

As the club announce a new sponsorship deal with internet agency Domino, replacing long standing shirt sponsor Unipart, Steve Anthrobus unexpectantly arrives back from Barbados. It turns out that due to administrative errors surrounding his citizenship, he’s not eligible to play for the national team after all. He just had to travel 4,000 miles to find out. It’s been that kind of summer.

Pre-season steps up with the club’s first major friendly against Birmingham City. Denis Smith claims the 3-0 defeat in the Bill Halsey Memorial Trophy is ‘brilliant’ as it showed how much work there was still to do before the start of the season. Man of the Match is Richard Knight who makes six crucial saves to keep the score down. 

There’s better news off the field, as the appeal regarding the drinks covenant is rejected and Pentith’s objection to the cinema dropped. A dispute with Thames Water is still live, but Firoz Kassam claims construction could re-start as early as September. 

Ahead of a daunting friendly against a strong Chelsea team, Denis Smith gives another ultimatum to Mark Watson. He now has until the end of the week to sign, but with all communication going through his agent, prospects seem dim. Smith’s patience finally runs dry following the 5-1 defeat. He laments the schoolboy defensive errors and acknowledges that, for the second thrashing in a row, the score was ‘kept down’. Anders Jacobsen, a defender on trial from Stoke, says that he remains unconvinced that the result is a one-off – it’s not, it’s a two-off, but we know what he means. His concerns reduce the prospect of him signing permanently. 

With July coming to an end, and the season less than two weeks away, the deadline for Mark Watson to sign passes with an eerie silence.

August 2000

With the club preparing its final descent towards the new season, there’s a series of twists characterising the whole summer. First, Steve Davis, who formally turned down a contract in June, returns to plays in a 1-1 draw with Hereford. Afterwards, to the bafflement of all, he announces that he’s agreed a 1-year deal for next season. Then, as the deadline for his signing passes, Mark Watson decides to break his silence, gushingly calling on Denis Smith to sign him up. Then, the Steve Davis deal falls through and Smith announces the arrival of Jon Richardson from Exeter City seemingly bringing the whole debacle to a close.

It takes the number of new signings to seven with Richard Knight, striker Manny Onoyimni, and defenders Ian McGuckin, John Robertson and Lee Jarman, who is on a monthly contract. In goal for the Hereford friendly is Jimmy Glass, who is most famous for scoring a last-minute goal for Carlisle United in 1999 to keep them in Football League. Denis Smith seems keen to bring him in as cover for Richard Knight.

Two days before the season starts, the squad finally gathers for its team photo; their shirts, featuring the Domino logo are made by New Balance and are a darker yellow with a strange luminescent quality. Under the lights it seems to create the illusion of turning the shirt green. 

Denis Smith is bullish on the eve of the season opener against Peterborough at The Manor. The bookies have the club favourites to go down, but Smith thinks they may surprise some people. He’s right, but perhaps not in the way he meant. He backs Manny Omoyimni to fire the club forward, setting him a target of 20 goals for the season. The picture changes 24 hours later as Oxford fall to a 1-0 home defeat. Denis Smith seems confused about his best team and formation with Lee Jarman being sacrificed in a reshuffle mid-game. 

Days later the worsening mood grows darker still when full-back Ross Weatherstone is convicted of racially assaulting a taxi driver during a night out with friends. He receives a fine for his part in the incident. The club’s ponderous response to the issue angers both fans and the local press.

Just two days after that, it’s announced that former manager, Maurice Evans has died of a heart attack. A universally liked and unassuming character, Evans managed the club to Milk Cup success, taking over from Jim Smith in 1985. The club would go into mourning, if it wasn’t so self-absorbed in its own failure. A dismal week concludes with a 3-0 defeat to Port Vale in the second game of the season. 

The following week, we play Wolves at Molineux in the League Cup allowing Dean Whitehead to make his first start for the club. Wolves are in the second tier but suffering from injuries. If the season so far hasn’t been bizarre enough, a Matt Murphy goal gives us a 1-0 first-leg win and a genuine chance of getting through to the next round.

Four days later we lose our third league game of the season 1-0 to Brentford. Off the field the club suspend Ross Weatherstone for his conviction for racially aggravated assault, but with a ten-day gap between the decision and the club’s action, the damage is already done. The month concludes with our fourth consecutive league defeat, at Walsall we take the lead through Joey Beauchamp, then concede twice, Beauchamp equalises before the hosts grab the winner eight minutes from time. The goals, at least, represent our first of the season. 

September 2000

The Walsall game has a further casualty when Paul Powell damages knee ligaments, putting him out of the game for several months. On form, Powell represents the club’s brightest prospect with Premier League teams taking an interest in his progress. The loss is another bitter blow.

Still, two days later, a 1-1 draw at home to Cambridge sees us take our first point of the season. Denis Smith isn’t there to see it because he’s in hospital with a blood infection (obviously). The point lifts the club off the bottom of the table setting things up nicely for the second leg of the League Cup tie against Wolves…

… to whom Oxford crash out, despite taking the lead through Jon Richardson, going 2-0 up in the tie and Wolves have Joleon Lescott sent off, the visitors turn the tie on its head with two quick goals and a winner that sends Oxford out. It’s the hope that kills you.

Still, it’s not all bad news as the council give the go-ahead for a leisure complex at Minchery Farm, meaning the stadium construction can get underway, at last. Probably. A local farmer, Les Wells claims he owns some of the land and may still call for a judicial review into the decision.

The season is the first to feature Oxford’s three most local rivals – Swindon, Reading and Wycombe – so coupled with the bigger picture, there are local bragging rights to win. Or lose. First up is Wycombe Wanderers in a Friday night game live on TV. Richard Knight is injured in the first-half meaning a debut for Canadian ‘keeper Hubert Busby Jnr. The substitution has a lengthy delay when it turns out that Busby doesn’t have a goalkeeper’s shirt and has to quickly find a club training top to play in. Afterwards, Oxford’s kitman Ken Ridley claims he hadn’t forgotten the shirt, he just didn’t have any in stock. Wycombe win 3-1. Busby, playing his one and only game in England, saves a last-minute penalty, which has to be retaken. They score. 

There’s a hitch with the planning permission on the new stadium because, well, of course there is. With Firoz Kassam determined to get building started, it’s now suggested that approval needs to go to full council. It helps that nobody seems very sure on this point.

Oxford’s fifth defeat in six league games, a 4-0 thrashing by Stoke, results in a major re-think for Denis Smith. It’s only September and he’s already talking about a clear out; especially up front where it’s been 18 hours since a striker scored for the club.

And then, a win! A goal ten minutes from time from substitute Jamie Cook against Bury sees Oxford take its first three points of the season. Even a missed Joey Beauchamp penalty doesn’t bring the mood down. Denis Smith still wants to sort out his striking problem. A £200,000 bid for Torquay’s Tony Bedeau falls through, so Smith turns to a loan deal for Manchester City’s Leon Mike.

It’s back to normal after the Bury win as Mike makes a demoralising debut in the 5-0 thrashing at Millwall. The team have now conceded 18 goals in just 5 away games. Denis Smith blames a lack of leaders, having previously blamed a lack of fire power.

Off the field, two club stalwarts leave the club, commercial manager Trevor Baxter and communications manager David Crabtree are pursuing new opportunities. A clue as to the reasons behind Baxter’s decision may be in the news that the club have announced that the team’s new, vaguely green, replica shirts are expected to be in stock before the end of the month – 6 weeks into the season. The month concludes with a 0-1 home defeat to Bristol City. Youth team coach, Mike Ford comes out of retirement for his final professional game.

October 2000

The aftermath of the Bristol defeat is significant, fans turn on Denis Smith, calling for his head. The following Monday, the club announce that he’s standing down but will stay on as an advisor to help appoint his successor. First to throw their hat in the ring is former Oxford centre-back who played for England in the 1990 World Cup, Mark Wright. Wright, manager at Southport, is emerging as one of the most promising managers in the Conference.

Instead, Mike Ford is given the role in a caretaker capacity, dauntingly his first game is the local derby against Swindon at the County Ground. Fans are pessimistic with only 1500 buying tickets for the game some 25% down on normal figures.

The day before the game a row erupts when it’s revealed that Swindon are offering cheaper tickets to their fans, a breach of the rules. Oxford report Swindon to the Football League as a result. Ford unveils Guy Whittingham, a veteran striker on loan from Portsmouth.  

Oxford create the better chances playing a more direct game. Swindon keeper Bart Griemink saves from a Matt Murphy point-blank header before Lee Jarman hits the post. 

Then, inevitably, Alan Reeves sweeps it home from six yards before Whittingham connects with a Sam Ricketts’ pass for the equaliser.

Swindon’s substitutes combine to take the winner, Giuliano Grazioli, who four years earlier had put into his own net to spark Oxford to promotion against Peterborough, tucks away Sol Davis’s low cross.

Whittingham’s is the first Oxford goal by a recognised striker for five months, however, things are moving quickly back at Portsmouth; manager Tony Pulis is sacked and replaced by Steve Claridge whose first act is to recall Whittingham. He leaves with one goal from one game and a legacy which will last longer than many other Oxford players in the current squad. The club has to seek special dispensation from the Football League to replace Whittingham with another loan player.

Two further names are thrown into the ring as a replacement for Denis Smith; Steve Coppell and Ian Atkins. Meanwhile two senior professionals; Matt Murphy and club captain Peter Fear ask to be put on the transfer list, the latter, looking overweight and disinterested, can’t get into the team. The club secedes to both requests.

Cheltenham manager Steve Cotterill turns down the opportunity to take over the Oxford hotseat after meeting with Firoz Kassam. Following a farcical 4-3 defeat to Wrexham, Denis Smith, who appears to be both an ex-manager and manager simultaneously, signs 38-year-old ex-Arsenal defender Andy Linighan to try and shore up the leaky defence which has shipped 27 goals in 12 games. The impact appears immediate as a man of the match performance from Richard Knight results in a 0-0 draw with Luton Town picking up our fifth point of the season. Every silver lining has a cloud as the game is marred by Paul Tait breaking his leg.

Any sense that the point offers a fragile platform on which to build a recovery is blown out of the water the next day as Firoz Kassam goes on the offensive. Kassam, who has been largely silent when it comes to team matters, is ostensibly there to trailer a double announcement; the first of which is expected to be the restart of building work at the stadium. However, the club’s dismal start to the season cannot be ignored. Kassam explodes.

His particular gripe is the supposed lack of investment in the team, he claims to be £5m out of pocket and has a clear message for the media and fans; “So all I can say to the media and to a few supporters who make unnecessary threats to me and my family is: if you don’t like it, piss off, go away.” The rift is never fully healed.

The next day, as if nothing has happened, in the strangely homely surrounds of the ancient Priory Pub next to the new stadium, Kassam announces Joe Kinnear as his new director of football with David Kemp coming in as manager. It’s quite a coup; Kinnear is a manager with Premier League experience. Kassam also announces Birse as the construction partner on the new stadium.

The impact is, well, minimal. Kinnear and Kemp’s first game is our seventh straight away defeat, 3-1 to Rotherham. Derek Lilley contrives to have a goal chalked off for offside after he converts a shot that was already going in from Jamie Cook. The loss is followed by a 2-0 defeat to Wigan.  It’s not even Christmas and we’re already looking for a miracle to survive.

The following week we head to Reading. Despite the mocking by Oxford fans about their toy town stadium and plastic fans, the Madjeski Stadium is in such stark contrast to the collapsing Manor Ground it illustrates the growing chasm between the two clubs. The game is a classic. As the rain lashes down, Oxford come from a goal down to lead 2-1, Reading equalise before John Richardson makes it 3-2. Just as it looks like an unexpected three points is on the cards, a late Tony Rougier double in the last 12 minutes turns the game around. Another 3-4 defeat. It’s made all the worse as the win sends Reading to the top of the table.

November 2000

A 1-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers sets David Kemp on a search for new blood, he signs Keith Brown from Barnsley and Keith Andrews from Wolves both on loan along with Northern Ireland international striker Phil Gray from Burnley. The impact is immediate as the new look team head to Swansea and come away with a 2-1 win. Andrews stands out, scoring the winner and running the midfield. The result was the first win in nine, and just the second league victory of the season. It wins the club Performance of the Week by Sky.

Kemp, never one to play down his contribution, declares his team are on the up; but Joe Kinnear is not resting on his laurels, tracking Jamaican international Onandi Lowe and sacking Mickey Lewis, who has become surplus to requirements since Kemp and his assistant Alan McLeary took charge.

It doesn’t dampen the mood as we secure a 1-0 FA Cup win over non-league Macclesfield, the game is marred by trouble in the Oxford end when we concede a penalty two minutes from time. Richard Knight’s save preserves the lead and sends Oxford into the second round.

Suddenly, there seems to be stability at the club which Kinnear wants to leverage with a cash bid for Birmingham’s Steve Robinson. I mean, obviously he doesn’t sign, but remember the name. As if to illustrate the positivity, Oxford race to a 2-0 first half lead against Notts County with two goals from Matt Murphy. Suddenly the fight-back is truly on. Then, it all falls apart again. Three second half goals and we collapse to yet another defeat. All confidence seeps away. 

Despite the big money bids, Kinnear and Kemp struggle to bring anyone in, as if to illustrate the frustration both Lee Jarman and Jimmy Glass, who have been on weekly contracts, are signed until the end of the season. 

December 2000

David Kemp splashes out £35,000 for Forest Green Rovers defender Wayne Hatswell. Hatswell has already gained notoriety lashing in an own goal for Morecambe in the FA Cup last year. The goal, in which Hatswell under no pressure, three yards out, manages to find the top corner of his own goal, is shown repeatedly on Match of the Day. He sounds like our kind of player.

With Hatswell, Manny Omoyimni and Jimmy Glass, the club are building quite a collection of players people will reminisce about on podcasts in years to come.

Another 3-2 defeat, this time to Oldham is followed by a 4-1 Auto Windscreen Shield defeat to Brentford. Although the result is largely meaningless, Kemp apologises for the performance, it’s the thirteenth time the team have conceded three or more goals.

An old wound is opened in December when Ross Weatherstone announces that he doesn’t plan to appeal his conviction for racially aggravated assault. He continues to insist that he isn’t a racist and that not appealing is down to the club’s suggestion that everyone needs to put the issue behind them. 

There’s another 3-2 defeat, this time to non-league Chester in the FA Cup, David Kemp turns his ire on shell-shocked ‘keeper Richard Knight. Knight has conceded a bucketload of goals but is still a fan favourite and contender for player of the year due to his performances. Knight’s error in the Cup triggers Kemp to bring in Neil Cutler on loan from Aston Villa. The endless merry-go-round of players continues as Derek Lilley leaves to return to Scotland; he’s had a torrid time and failed to settle down south.

Cutler is far from popular with the London Road faithful, who feel Knight has been scapegoated. His debut, however, sees a 3-1 win over Northampton Town, Steve Anthrobus scores for the first time in the league in nearly a year. We’re in a parallel universe. Star of the show is 17-year-old Chris Hackett, who Joe Kinnear offers a five-year contract to days later. Youngsters Jamie Brooks and Simon King are also offered long term deals.

Days before Christmas it’s revealed that The Ackland Hospital has re-submitted planning permission to relocate to the Manor site once Oxford leave for Minchery Farm. The stumbling block is traffic, but the plan would provide essential finance to the club.

A 2-3 defeat to Colchester before Christmas is followed by a dismal 1-2 Boxing Day defeat to Bournemouth with two goals from teenage superkid, Jermaine Defoe, who is on loan from West Ham. The goals are in a sequence of ten consecutive games, a post-war record. After a fleeting flicker of hope, Oxford head into 2001 needing a miracle if it is to salvage anything from the season.

January 2001

The New Year brings no rest bite as Oxford collapse to a 3-0 defeat to Brentford. David Kemp thinks the answer is in the transfer market. When it comes it’s pretty remarkable. Brentford’s Andy Scott, one of the division’s top goalscorers, teammate Rob Quinn and Kevin Austin – a loanee from Barnsley at Brentford all sign in a deal worth £250,000. Also arriving from Swansea City is defender Garry Monk.

With Austin’s signature held up, Quinn, Scott and Monk all make their debuts and Andy Linighan is sacrificed for the 2-1 win over Walsall. Days later, Austin’s move collapses due after he fails a medical. A 1-0 defeat to Colchester precedes a 4-2 defeat to Peterborough – it’s the 16th time Oxford have conceded three or more goals. David Kemp resorts to tortured analogies to explain the latest failure: “We’re like an old car. You think you’ve got one part mended and then the bumper falls off.” he says before adding “We’re like a bucket with a hole in it, you patch it up and then another hole appears.” Yes David, we get it.

Elsewhere, St Andrew’s First School are the latest people to take an interest in moving to the Manor Ground site next year.

February 2001

101 days after arriving at the club, Joe Kinnear announces that he’s leaving the club to spend more time with his family. It comes as something of a surprise when two days later he’s unveiled as Luton Town’s new Director of Football. Rumours circulate that the deal was struck before Christmas.

A 0-2 defeat to Wycombe prompts David Kemp, who is already on the ropes with the fans, into action. He attempts to alleviate the pressure by diving into the transfer market again to find the latest solution to the club’s endless woes. Northern Ireland international Darren Patterson is signed after completing a short-term contract with York City. While the door is open, the Weatherstone brothers – Simon and Ross are shown the exit as they head off to Boston. There’s no immediate impact as Chris Hackett is sent off after 20 minutes in the game against Bury as the team collapse to a 1-3 defeat, number 25 of the season.

Patterson, who is made club captain, puts in a man-of-the match performance three days later scoring in a 1-1 draw with Stoke. One beneficiary of the Kemp-era is Matt Murphy, who has cemented a place in the team since asking for a transfer, now he’s even talking about getting a new contract.

The month concludes with a routine 0-2 defeat to Millwall, after which Neil Cutler is sent back to Aston Villa. Although not popular with the fans, David Kemp is angry at the decision which appears to have been made by Firoz Kassam.

March 2001

March sees the relegation doomsday clock on countdown. The only bit of light that seems to be shining; progress on the stadium, is stunted when Les Wells wins the right to a judicial review into the decision to allow a leisure complex on what he claims to be his right of way. Wells isn’t looking to kill the project, but instead is looking for compensation of around £20,000. Firoz Kassam is taking a different tone. He says the issue threatens the whole project. Once again, the club’s future is in the balance.

Richard Knight makes a triumphant return to the first team with a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw at Bristol City, but it’s business as usual three days later as we go down 3-5 to Wrexham. 

The final visit of Swindon Town doesn’t sell out with just over 7,000 attending. Dean Whitehead is sent off before half-time after kicking Steve Robinson, a transfer target for David Kemp earlier in the season. Matt Murphy follows him with 25 minutes left for two bookable offences. The home fans hurl coins and bottles at Steve Mildenhall in the Swindon goal forcing the referee to take the players off with 12 minutes to play. By this point we’re already a goal down to a Robinson (yes him) first-half volley, he fires another one in with a minute to go. 

“This is Oxford United and the way things are going you get a large kick in the balls as opposed to a little tap,” says analogy magnet David Kemp “The thing to do is not sulk about it but just hope that the tide turns and surely it will.”

It won’t. 

23 points adrift from safety, with the future of their new stadium in the balance, Firoz Kassam has taken decisive action to do nothing about the club’s parlous state until the outcome of the judicial review forced by Les Wells. 

The double threat – the right of way and the judicial review into the planning decision – could be resolved if Kassam is prepared to compensate Wells. With the transfer deadline approaching, Kassam confirms that nobody will be signed as the club may not exist in a week’s time, despite having no cover for Richard Knight.

With Firoz Kassam ratcheting up the pressure on the council and Les Wells, Wells takes to the Oxford United Forum ThisIsUnited to make his views clear. Kassam responds by revealing that The Manor has been sold, though to whom remains a mystery. The sale will render the club homeless if the stadium isn’t complete. This is brinkmanship of the highest order.

Four days later, Les Wells demands £1m for his land, which Firoz Kassam looks set to pay. If legal costs can be agreed, the crisis may be averted. 

Ironically, as the club teeters on the brink of oblivion, the team hit its best form of the season; first comes the most extraordinary result of year as the team contrive to beat league leaders Rotherham 4-3 at the Manor.

Man of the Match was Manny Omoyimni scoring twice, his first of the twenty Denis Smith had predicted for him, plus having another one ruled out for offside and an assist.

Omoyimni’s cross allowed Rob Qunn to score after six minutes, Mark Robbins on 24 minutes before he fired in a 25 yard drive three minutes later. The third came on the hour with Andy Scott heading the fourth seven minutes later. Two later Rotherham goals made it an uncomfortable finish, but the three points were secured.

That David Kemp said: “I hope the penny has dropped for him.” Omoyimni scores once more all season.

The game preceded a council meeting on Tuesday whether to give the go-ahead on the stadium. Chairman Firoz Kassam, continues to ratchet up the pressure saying: “If the conditions are not lifted I will no longer support the club and will stop paying the contractors. It is in the hands of the council.”

The restrictions are lifted and it appears, finally, it’s all steam ahead.

Oxford then lose to Cambridge, but only by a last minute goal from Paul Wanless. The month concludes with a 1-0 win over Northampton. 

The Northampton game isn’t without its own dose of farce; the team coach fails to turn up meaning the players have to make their way to Sixfields, like wacky races, in a fleet of cars. The coach company take the blame saying “I do apologise to the club. It was a new driver who had problems because the toilet on the coach wasn’t properly drained and then the fuses kept blowing.” which sums the whole season up.

April 2001

A Phil Gray goal after 8 seconds doesn’t prevent Oxford from falling to yet another 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth. It is the fourth 4-3 of the season, and the 13th game with five goals or more. We are nothing if not entertaining. 

The defeat sets up the inevitable; we are now just one defeat from relegation. The night before our home game against Oldham, the new stadium is struck by an arson attack. The damage, which is estimated to be worth around £60,000, appears to have been done by kids. 

The following day, a last-minute goal condemns Oxford to a humiliating relegation. They are the first team in the country to do it.

With the misery over, Oxford pick up a point at Luton before narrowly losing 3-2 to Wigan. David Kemp is bullish about the future calling for Firoz Kassam to invest in the team. Days later, the team meekly surrenders 2-0 to Reading. It is the club’s sixth defeat in six derby games. And if you want to argue about whether to include Wycombe as a derby or not, you really haven’t been paying attention, we simply no longer care. Fans continue to call for David Kemp’s head, who hits back saying that fans need a reality check.

With relegation confirmed, thoughts turn to damage limitation, with four games left and 90 goals conceded, the club set themselves a goal of avoiding conceding 100 goals before the end of the season. I mean, it feels like Fergie in his pomp doesn’t it? Fittingly, even that target looks beyond them when they concede six in a 6-2 defeat to Bristol Rovers. Richard Knight is sent off for a professional foul, only the leniency of the referee prevents substitute keeper Phil Wilson – who saves a penalty before watching the rebound go in – going after he commits a similar foul ten minutes later. Had Wilson gone, it would have left the club without a ‘keeper for the last games of the season.

It’s some great irony that David Kemp is fired after a 3-1 win over Swansea. The result turns out to be the final win at The Manor, which is 2,500 short of capacity for the farewell game against Port Vale. Mike Ford takes over as caretaker manager fielding a young team of local kids. 

May 2001

The Port Vale game features fireworks and a speech from Firoz Kassam who promises to build ‘a team to be proud of’. It’s a promise that would haunt him in years to come. Andy Scott slots home the final Oxford goal in the first half and then, somewhat fittingly, Port Vale equalise in the last minute.

The final game of the season, away to Notts County, features an inexperienced team with eight home-grown players. Against the odds, a Rob Folland goal gives Oxford the lead, but County hit back as Oxford concede their 99th and 100th goal. 

Oxford United end the season bottom of the table, 10 points behind second bottom, 35 points from safety. They’ve won seven games, drawn six and lost 33. They’ve scored 53 goals and conceded 100. They have had three managers and played forty-one players including five goalkeepers.

On the morning of the final game, Firoz Kassam finally reveals who bought The Manor. It’s Firoz Kassam. One of his companies – Firoka – buy the ground for £6m from the club, which is set to be bought by The Ackland Hospital who are planning a £25m development. Although Kassam claims there are no other buyers, the purchase deprives the club of the full market value of their own ground.

Post season

The clearout of the squad begins almost immediately; Peter Fear and Steve Anthrobus are both released with Lee Jarman and Jon Shepheard also likely to leave. John Robertson also heads back to Scotland because his wife is homesick.

Mark Wright is announced as the club’s new permanent manager. Wright has built a reputation as a bright young manager after a stellar playing career. But, if the end of the season is expected the herald a new dawn, the misery continues to when the Voice of the London Road Andrew Knapton dies suddenly.  

This casts another shadow over the final game at The Manor, a charity re-run of the Milk Cup Final organised by Alan Judge. Many Oxford players from that game return, though not Malcolm Shotton, Ray Houghton or John Aldridge.

Mark Wright starts re-building his squad, trying to sign younger players such as Dean Whitehead and Jamie Brooks. Wright sacks Denis Smith, the man who recommended him for the job. 

Domino, who step down as the club’s shirt sponsor, have no regrets as the club announces a new shirt for next season. The kit, voted by the fans, is brighter and made by TFG and will be sponsored by local company Buildbase. Completing the exorcism of the last 12 months, the club hold an auction to sell off parts of the old Manor Ground.

Thoughts turn to the new stadium – which Firoz Kassam bashfully names after himself – as local residents worry about parking issues on matchdays. The club setting aside nearly £250,000 to support traffic management and announce a price freeze on season tickets. The announcement has the desired effect there is brisk business for renewals. 

It’s not all good news as the stadium is subject to another attack of vandalism, this time windows are smashed using catapults. 

Still, the squad re-building continues with the signing of Martin Thomas and Sam Stockley. Mark Wright’s attempt at luring Neil Ruddock and Dean Saunders fails, and the signing of John Dreyer is blocked by Firoz Kassam. One of the issues is the stockpile of defenders at the club; with two more added – Scott Guyett and Phil Bolland from Mark Wright’s former club. As a result, Ian McGuckin is shown the door to try and release more budget.

With the new season less than a month away, the club’s pre-season starts with a game against Brackley Town, Paul Tait scores in a narrow 1-0 win over Didcot. Mark Wright solves his goalkeeping difficulties with the signing of Ian McCaldon from Livingstone. He signs after Dave Beasant turns down the opportunity to see out his career with the club.

The rush is on to finish the stadium and gain its safety certificate in time for its opening game – the Bill Hasley Memorial Trophy game against Crystal Palace. Days beforehand, the club confirm that the upper section of the South Stand won’t be available for the game, but they remain confident it will go ahead. It’s that close.

The club’s staff finally take up their new position at the stadium and three days later the Palace friendly gets the go-ahead. There’s traffic chaos as the kick-off is delayed; a majority of the crowd haven’t bought tickets in advance meaning there are long queues at the ticket office. Still, despite the ground still being covered in dust and tape from the construction work, the game goes ahead. Paul Powell scores Oxford’s first ever goal at the new ground, a penalty. The 1-1 draw results in penalties, which Oxford win.Work continues throughout the week to finalise the stadium in time for the season opener against Rochdale. On 11 August 2001, after 15 psychologically exhausting months, Oxford sit on the cusp of a new dawn. The day is grey and the weather is cold, but finally it’s here. The future.

Midweek Fixture: The top 50 players of the 2000s – Ranked

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. The 2000s was a bleak decade for Oxford United, we dropped into the bottom tier of the Football League in 2001, then just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, out of the Football League altogether.

At the back end of last year, I asked you to vote for your favourite players from that godforsaken decade. This is how the top 50 ranked.

50. Matt Robinson

A friend of mine once asked why Matt Robinson wasn’t playing in the Premier League. The bald wonder had magic in his boots, if he had a decent striker to get on the end of his crosses, or alternatively Julian Alsopp, we always threatened.

49. Alan Judge

The first of many whose ranking is probably not down to his performances in the decade in question. Alan Judge played just two games as emergency cover in 2003 and 2004 and while that had a certain something about it, his ranking is probably more down to his Milk Cup Final appearance in 1986.

Defining moment: In the decade in question, let’s go for his last game for the club 19 years after his debut, aged 44. A 4-0 defeat to Southend.

48. Eddie Anaclet

A spritely full-back from our first season in the Conference. I had him down as the player of the season that year, another poll ranked him as the worst player in the squad. A breath of fresh air in a squad of has-beens and never-wases.

47. Scott McNiven

Once Scott McNiven got his backside between a striker and the ball, there was no getting around it. It was that big. A full-back – with Matt Robinson (50) on the other side – of the Ian Atkins vintage. 

46. Andy Scott

Endlessly likeable striker bought by Firoz Kassam in a panic from Brentford in 2001. Scott had scored a bucket load in the first half of that season, but never really hit the groove for us in what was a hopelessly failing side. 

Defining moment: Scored in a Boxing Day game against Luton Town in front of a full-house (we still lost).

45. Sam Ricketts

Angular faced full-back and academy product, Ricketts was squeezed out of the club in 2002 due to competition for players. He stepped down a few levels, but worked his way back into the Football League before playing 52 times for Wales. One that got away. 

44. Andy Burgess

A mercurial talent, but when the going got tough, Burgess went missing. Scored a wonder goal in the first game of the Conference season, but spent most of the rest of the season with his sleeves over his hands like a reluctant goth playing 4th Year house football.

Defining moment: The moment of magic against Chris Wilder’s Halifax Town in our first game in Conference.

43. Chris Tardif

Perpetual understudy to Andy Woodman, Tardif was a bit of a luxury in that he was too good to sit on the bench, though that’s what he did. Watching him and Alan Hodgkinson checking out the half-time scores instead of warming up was a staple of the Kassam Stadium mid-2000s experience.

42. Mark Watson

Our collapse down the league could be plotted in the quality of our centre-backs. From Elliot and Gilchrist to Wilsterman and Whelan. Mark Watson was the last of the great stoppers. Walked out of the club in 2000, and given what happened next, understandably so.

41. Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn was one of those salt-of-the-earth kind of players. He battled against hope to keep our promotion hopes alive during the mid-2000s. 

40. Rob Duffy

Perhaps the most divisive player of this or any decade. Jim Smith brought Duffy from Portsmouth to spearhead our fight back to the Football League in 2006. Duffy immediately started to repay him in goals, many from the penalty spot. Otherwise, he didn’t seem that bothered. Nobody could decide whether he was a goal machine or a lazy sod. In the play-off against Exeter in 2007 he found himself clean through only to weakly tap the ball back to their ‘keeper. It summed him up perfectly.

Defining moment: Rolling the ball into the hands of the Exeter ‘keeper in the play-off semi-final when clean through.

39. Sam Deering

A pocket sized ball of trouble. There was much wrong with Sam Deering; his racist comments about nurses, his Ugg boots, the fact he couldn’t get the ball in the box from a corner. When he broke his leg in Chris Wilder’s first game, Wilder – who called him ‘our best player’ – used it as a way of leveraging support for his way of working. In 2010 at Wembley he picked the ball up from Rhys Day on the edge of the area exchanged passes with Alfie Potter and the rest was history.

Defining moment: Best supporting actor in the third goal at Wembley.

38. Danny Rose

An absolutely solid, if unremarkable midfielder who joined in 2007 from Manchester United where he was their ‘reserve captain’. Too much was expected of him. Returned later to play his part in our 2015/16 promotion campaign. Then ruined it all by going to Swindon.

37. Paul Wanless

Another two-spell man. Having cut his teeth at Oxford, Wanless headed off to Cambridge where he became something of a legend. Returned at the tail end of his career in 2003.

36. Nigel Jemson

Yet another two spell man and, like Alan Judge, probably not at this level because of what he did during the decade. In his pomp, Jemson spearheaded an attack which kept us in the Championship during the late 90s. His return in 2000 miserably yielded no goals from 18 appearances. 

Defining moment: Screaming in the face of a kneeling and crestfallen Paul Moody for not passing to him when clean through on goal.

35. Manny Omoyimni

Manny Omoyimni was famous before he reached Oxford, while at West Ham he featured in a League Cup game for the Hammers having previously turned out for Gillingham in an earlier round. As a result, West Ham were thrown out of the competition. Omoyimni, didn’t really do much at the Manor in another failing team, but he tried hard and around that time, that was all you could ask for.

34. Matty Taylor

Memorable though they were, I’m speculating that Matty Taylor’s two appearances in the Setanta Shield in 2008 were not the prime reason for making number 34. Slipped off the radar, made his name elsewhere; a return this season has propelled him up the ratings.

33. Mateo Corbo

A surprisingly enduring spirit. Corbo’s defining characteristic during his thirteen game spell at the club was his ability to get booked. 

32. Lee Bradbury

A striker who was too good for the team that he played with; or so the argument goes. Bradbury signed from Portsmouth with a reputation for goals; signing him was quite a coup. The problem seemed to be that he was so ahead of his team mates that he was never in the right place to put the ball in the back of the net.  

Defining moment: A bicycle kick from point blank range against Torquay.

31. Matt Murphy

Very much a nineties man; his career just about dipped into the 2000s, but it was what he did before that really made his name.

30. Jefferson Louis

Before characters like Danny Hylton and Jamie Mackie, there was Jefferson Louis. Signed from Thame United after a spell in prison, Louis was all arms and legs. In 2003 he got on the end of a James Hunt throw-in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup against Swindon Town to score the winner. He was then filmed stark naked live on daytime TV celebrating the fact we’d drawn Arsenal in the next round. Not exactly a one man club, at the last count he’d played for 45.

Defining moment: His glancing header that beat Swindon in the FA Cup in 2003.

29. Andy Woodman

When Ian Atkins became manager in 2001 he rolled into town a battalion of proven players. Andy Woodman stood behind an impenetrable defensive unit and never looked flustered. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

Defining moment: Saving a key penalty in 2002 to dump Charlton out of the League Cup.

28. Simon Clist

Not all heroes wear capes. Simon Clist was integral to the 2010 promotion team as the balancing force in midfield. Dannie Bulman won the battle, passed it to Clist, who passed it to Adam Chapman or Adam Murray to create something. It was fantastically effective. Clist was integral to that machinery.

27. Mike Ford

Another player whose position is probably more down to what he did outside the decade than what he did in it. Mike Ford was never the nimblest of players and by 2000 he was on his last legs. But, in terms of what he gave to the club before that, he’ll never be bettered.

26. Tommy Mooney

Notoriously tight with his money, Firoz Kassam was prone to the odd panic buy – Paul Moody, Andy Scott, Lee Bradbury. Tommy Mooney came with baggage, a former Swindon striker, but at a time when we were so self-possessed, that didn’t matter too much. Mooney came with an excellent reputation. He didn’t let us down scoring 15 goals in the season he was with us. In reality he was just squeezing out a few more signing-on fees before age caught up with him. In a flash, he was gone. 

25. Matt Green

Matt Green would have been much higher up the list had his Oxford career been more straightforward. His first stint was in 2007 on loan from Cardiff, then he was all set to sign on a permanent deal, but took a diversion on the way to the ground and spent a year at Torquay. Eventually Chris Wilder signed him to make up part of a devastating three pronged attack in our Conference promotion year. 

Defining moment: His sensational volley to open the scoring at Wembley in 2010.

24. Adam Murray

Something of a forgotten man; Adam Murray joined in 2008 and skippered the promotion side for a good chunk of the season. Sadly injury meant he missed the last 4 months of the season meaning James Constable picked up the arm band and Adam Chapman pulled the strings in midfield. A creative talent that dug us out of the hole we were in at the time.

23. Jamie Cook

Jamie Cook had a curious Oxford career; he emerged in the 90s but played second fiddle to brighter homegrown stars. Left to pursue a very serviceable career. Returned in 2009 where he again played a bit part in our promotion campaign. Despite this, will always be fondly remembered at the club.

Defining moment: A 25-yard screamer against Luton Town in 2009.

22. Chris Hargreaves

A warrior who led his team into a hopeless battle to avoid relegation from the football team in 2006. Vowed to right a wrong in the Conference, but was last seen kicking a water bottle in frustration as we fell to Exeter in the play-off semi-final. Came back 3 years later mostly as a cheerleader to finally see us get back into the Football League in 2010.

21. Andy Crosby

Sometimes you just need to be held in the arms of a big strong man who will protect you. Andy Crosby was a colossus in Ian Atkins’ pragmatic team of 2001-2004. A metronomic ability to score penalties also meant that he threatened the goalscorers charts as well as held the back line together.

20. Bobby Ford

An enigmatic lost soul who seemed blighted by his talent. Returned to the club in 2002 having played in the top flight with Sheffield United to play in a team barely suited to his style.

19. Jack Midson

Gentleman Jack Midson first floated into view scoring an imperious lob over Billy Turley while playing for Histon in 2008. Eventually Chris Wilder brought him to the club, where he provided all the craft we needed to see us promoted in 2010. Quickly ejected by Wilder, Midson returned from a loan spell to score a hat-trick against Torquay in the Miracle of Plainmoor. And that was pretty much him done.

Defining moment: His winner versus Yeovil Town in the FA Cup in 2009

18. Les Robinson

Les Robinson wasn’t a millennium guy; he only played 26 games in the 21st Century, just 6% of all the games he played for us. But it’s a lasting testament to his legacy that he was still better than over 200 players who did play during the decade.

17. Dannie Bulman

Dannie Bulman was key to Chris Wilder’s rescue effort in 2009 being the tenacious ball winner that galvanised our promotion effort. He quickly fell out of favour and we spent much of our first season back in the Football League trying to replace him. Chris Wilder’s biggest mistake?

16. Paul Powell

Paul Powell was long past his best as the century turned. At one point he’d been our finest asset and could have played for England. But, a broken leg and erratic temperament meant he never quite fulfilled his potential. He did have the dubious honour of scoring the club’s first ever goal at the Kassam Stadium.

15. Phil Gilchrist

Another one of the 90s guys. Phil Gilchrist was re-recruited in 2006 with the help of a Coca Cola competition winner, who funded his transfer. By this point Gilchrist was mostly being held together with sticky tape and rubber bands. For a season, it worked fine, but he fell apart just as we did. 

14. Adam Chapman

Adam Chapman never did things the easy way; he initially joined from Sheffield United on loan but really came into his own taking over from Adam Murray in the final weeks of the 2009/10 season. A week before the play-off final, it was announced that he was to be sentenced for killing a man while driving and texting at the same time. Chapman put in a man-of-the-match performance before being sentenced to a year in a young offenders institute. He was never quite the same again, but did hit the headlines again when he burnt his nipple on baby milk in 2012.

Defining moment: His party-pooping free-kick at Burton which ruined their promotion celebrations in 2009.

13. Damian Batt

A quicksilver full-back with an unstoppable engine, Damian Batt seemed to be capable of defending in his own six yard box one second, then driving in a cross at the other. A key player of the promotion season, he left in 2013 and pursue a somewhat curious life.

12. Jamie Brooks

Jamie Brooks could have been the greatest of them all. A prodigious talent who sparkled during a grim first season at the Kassam. Arsenal took an interest, and apparently on the verge of a move to the Premier League giants was struck down with Guillain–Barré syndrome which nearly cost him his life. Struggled on until 2006 before being released.

Defining moment: Scoring the first competitive goal at the Kassam Stadium.

11. Paul Moody

Paul Moody had provided the goals that brought us promotion in 1996, he left in 1997 but returned in 2001 as a crowd pleasing folly from Firoz Kassam. Actually made a decent fist of it, coming out as leading scorer but seemed to hate every minute. Left after a season.

Defining moment: Hanging off the crossbar at Wycombe in 1996.

10. Chris Hackett

A product of the youth system and a hare down the flank. Threatened to follow the lineage of Brock, Thomas, Beauchamp, Allen and Powell. When you needed a spark, Hackett was your man.

Defining moment: Probably being sold to Hearts just when we needed him most.

9. Billy Turley

A self-consciously self-styled ‘character’ whose lunatic antics in goal between 2005 and 2010 kept our spirits up during bleak times. At times magnificent, but equally susceptible to the odd calamity as illustrated by his gaff that led to Leyton Orient’s first goal in the relegation decider in 2006 and a missed penalty against Exeter in 2007. I mean, they were biggies; but that was Turley.

Defining moment: Maybe his last meaningful contribution to the club, an unbelievable save in 2010 against Wrexham.

8. Mark Creighton

The Beast. Chris Wilder had a strategy for us in 2009/10 – we were finally going to use our status as a large fish in a small pond to our advantage. Creighton dominated in every thing he did. A rock and a leader, he was surprisingly moved on by Wilder in 2010. 

Defining moment: Last minute goal against York City in 2009

7. Yemi Odubade

Yemi Odubade appeared if by magic during an FA Cup game at Eastbourne Borough. He won a penalty which snatched them a draw and ran us ragged in the replay despite losing. Brian Talbot wasted no time in snapping him up. Possessed blistering pace and was a rare joy in a dark time, his 45-yard goal against Dagenham and Redbridge in 2007 a moment of pure ecstasy.

Defining moment: That goal against Dagenham and Redbridge.

6. Ryan Clarke

There’s a good argument that Ryan Clarke was pound-for-pound the best Oxford player of the decade. Others had goals, Clarke probably saved more than everyone else put together.

Defining moment: Too many to mention, but let’s go with saving 8 out of 14 penalties around 2010 and 2011.

5. Joey Beauchamp 

Joey Beauchamp was not a man of the 2000s, by that point his career was in decline. But it is his enduring legend which has placed him at number 5. Disgracefully dumped by the club without the sniff of a testimonial in 2002; the streets remember Joey.

Defining moment: Joey’s 35-yard screamer against Blackpool in 1996.

4. Steve Basham

Blighted by injuries, Steve Basham was too good for a club falling apart. A striker who played with his head, which was somewhat out of keeping during the brutish Ian Atkins years. Always scored goals, but at the same time looked a little out of place.

Defining moment: Scoring the winner to knock Millwall out of the League Cup in 2003.

3. Dean Whitehead

The nineties produced a raft of great homegrown talents, it was a machine that helped keep the club afloat. It was dismantled in the 2000s, which makes Dean Whitehead’s talent all the more remarkable. Not only did he possess a skill with the ball, he developed a work ethic and discipline which saw him play at the very top of the game.

Defining moment: A breathtaking farewell free-kick against Rochdale in 2004

2. Alfie Potter

Alfie Potter arrived in 2009 and only played 13 games in the decade, but while he wasn’t the most regular of starters, nearly everything good that happened involved him. Scoring the iconic third goal at Wembley in 2010, destroying Portsmouth 4-1 in 2013 and scoring the winner against Swindon in the JPT in 2012, Potter’s career was defined by magical moments.

Defining moment: The third goal at Wembley.

1. James Constable

Was James Constable a player for the 2000s? Or the 2010s? Or was he just the greatest Oxford United player of the century (so far). Let’s go with that. A goal machine, a loyal stalwart, a thoroughly nice bloke, there’s nothing Beano couldn’t do.

Defining moment: Where do you start?

Midweek Fixture: Every Oxford United player from the 90s ranked – 50-1

It’s the final countdown of the top 50 players of the 1990s. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2. But, here come the heavy hitters that took us through to the end of the millennium.

50 – Anton Rogan

A tidy and assured full-back who signed from Sunderland. He didn’t quite get us promotion, but was part of the squad that turned us around before we went up in 1996. 

They walk amongst us: Now owns a taxi company in Woodstock.

49 – Andy Thomson

There were moments when Andy Thomson showed what a light touch and natural eye for goal he had. Sadly those times weren’t very often.

They walk amongst us: Now an assistant coach for the Scottish Women’s national team.

48 – Andre Arendse

A South African international who played in the World Cup, Andre Arendse was a master of the goalkeeping arts. Those he chose to get involved in; diving, shot stopping and catching were all beneath him.

They walk amongst us: Is now a pundit on South African TV channel Supersport as well as a goalkeeping coach.

47 – Steve Foster

A brand as much as a player; Foster’s trademark headband and tight curly hair made him one of the most recognised players in the country. Sadly, by the time we got him he was past his best, but still a formidable leader in his time.

They walk amongst us: Now lives in Brighton.

46 – Simon Marsh

Simon Marsh had a strange career. A contemporary of Paul Powell and Joey Beauchamp among others, Marsh looked all set to be a marginal character. Then he managed to get a run in Malcolm Shotton’s team that vaguely threatened the play-offs in 1998. It resulted in an England Under-21 cap and a transfer to Birmingham City at which point his career hit a brick wall.

They walk amongst us: Now runs the sports coaching business

45 – Nick Cusack

During quieter years, fans start to look for things to entertainment themselves; that’s when cults rise. The cult of Nick Cusack grew out of the fallow early-90s; an attacking midfielder who couldn’t really score in a team that did even less. At first it was frustrating, then it felt rather appropriate.

They walk amongst us: Is literally the deputy chief executive of the PFA.

44 – Mark Stein

Mark Stein was one of those players; had the pace and skill to be a world class, and the temperament to disappear. But, he won the League Cup with Luton and played in the Premier League and a Cup Final for Chelsea. Somewhere in amongst it all he played for us. 

They walk amongst us: Now works in a school for deprived children.

43 – Mark Angel

Mark Angel looked like he played bass in a marginal Madchester baggy band with his mop of curly hair gelled into a centre parting. He had his moments but was always overshadowed by other wingers at the club.

42 – Gary Smart

During the 90s we were a tidy club made up of tidy players, we had to be, we couldn’t afford to gamble. Gary Smart was one of the tidiest of them all. 

41 – Alex Dyer

Alex Dyer was a talented and sometimes frustrating player; what he lacked in pace he made up for in his head. A slow burner who earned the respect of the London Road through is relentless consistency. The London Road would echo to the tune of Alex Dyer M’Lord, Alex Dyer.

They walk amongst us: Is now the assistant manager for the Scottish national team

40 – Jimmy Phillips

The early-90s are a bit of a blind spot for me, I didn’t get to a lot of games because of university and so a number of players swirl around my head as though one. For me, Dave Collins, Nick Cusack, Jimmy Phillips all merge into one. Jimmy Phillips isn’t the other two.

They walk amongst us: Is under 23 coach for Bolton Wanderers and managed them briefly last season.

39 – Dave Smith

The 90s Simon Clist; was once subjected to a racial slur from Mike Ford in the matchday programme – something to do with his complexion and taxis. He frustrated fans a lot of the time due to his conservative style, but provided a solid platform for Joey Beauchamp, Chris Allen and Stuart Massey during our promotion season.

They walk amongst us: Rumour has it, somewhat ironically given Mike Ford’s joke, he set up a chauffeur company for celebrity footballers

38 – Robbie Mustoe

Mustoe was one who got away. He broke into the team in 1987 from the youth ranks, but couldn’t get any traction. Eventually, he slipped away to Middlesbrough where he played over 350 games and ended up enjoying a lengthy career in the Premier League.

They walk amongst us: Is a Premier League football pundit for NBC in the US

37 – Paul Wanless

One of those players whose ranking was probably more down to what he did at other times. A marginal player who graduated from the youth ranks in 1991, but never quite made it and headed off to Cambridge. Returned in 2003 for a few solid years at The Kassam before retiring.

36 – Martin Gray

Scuttling midfielder who dedicated his life to perfecting the sideways pass. An unrelentingly frustrating player to watch, yet alongside Dave Smith (39) was the bedrock of the 1996 promotion team.

They walk amongst us: Now teaching kids the value of the conservative sideways pass in his own academy.

35 – Pål Lundin

Aka – porn star. Comedy Swedish goalkeeper who shared responsibilities for letting in goals during 1999-2000 with Andre Arendse (48). Perhaps most famous for scoring a penalty in a Football League Trophy game against Wycombe. Yep, that was the high point.

34 – Ceri Evans

A Crewe fan once told me that he’d heard a fan ref heckle the ref at The Manor asking whether he’d been bribed with a place at the University. Funny right? His head would have exploded if he’d known we had a Rhodes Scholar in the back-four.

They walk amongst us: Looks like a Bond villain, but now runs his own medical practice.

33 – Martin Aldridge

The saddest story; Aldridge was a natural goal poacher; in any other era, he’d have been a first choice striker, but in the merry-go-round of Paul Moody, David Rush and Nigel Jemson he was mostly used as an impact player. Left the club in 1998 and was killed in a car crash two years later.

32 – Brian Wilsterman

The 1990s saw the emergence of the Premier League and all its cosmopolitan spirit. At Oxford United it was a time of great centre-backs. At the intersection of those two things was Brian Wilsterman. We loved him because he was from the same source as Cruyff and Bergkamp, we hated him because he was calamitous.

They walk amongst us: Ever the defender, he now runs a security company, while his son plays for FC Lienden.

31 – Paul Reece

The more I think about Paul Reece, the smaller he gets. A particularly spongey goalkeeper capable of pulling off remarkable finger-tip saves, even from back-passes. Much of his ranking comes from perhaps the greatest Oxford United goalkeeping display of all time; away at Derby.

They walk amongst us: Currently goalkeeping coach in the US.

30 – Mark Watson

A majestic centre-back and Canadian international who got caught up in the slow collapse of the club in the late 90s. When the club wanted to give him a new contract in 2000, he simply ran away.

They walk amongst us: Is part of the coaching staff at MLS side Minnesota United

29 – Christophe Remy

As we teetered on the edge of financial crisis, the presence of the endlessly likeable Frenchman lightened the mood around the place. A very capable full-back and our favourite non-British player of the 90s. 

They walk amongst us: His Twitter profile says he’s an entrepreneur

28 – Alan Judge

A vote more for what he did outside of the 90s. By 1990, Alan Judge’s Oxford career was winding down. But he’d been first choice keeper in Division 1 and played in the Milk Cup winning team. Briefly revived his career in 2003 during an injury crisis.

They walk amongst us: Now a driving instructor in Bicester.

27 – Martin Foyle

He looked like your dad, but was probably younger than you. There was nothing sexy about Martin Foyle, but he had a knack for scoring goals.

They walk amongst us: Head of recruitment at Motherwell in the SPL

26 – Paul Gerrard

The best loan player of the 90s; signed from Everton and only played 16 games, but left a lasting impression. Attempts to sign him permanently were thwarted, he was just too good for us.

They walk amongst us: Goalkeeping coach at Doncaster Rovers

25 – Les Phillips

Probably not the 25th best player of the 90s in truth, but being a member of the 1986 Milk Cup winning team gives you a bit of a boost in these things.

24 – Jamie Cook

There was Beauchamp, Allen and Paul Powell and there was Jamie Cook. Often the third wheel in a merry-go-round of wingers during the 90s, he eventually headed off to Crawley and enjoyed a decent career. Returned in 2009, funded partly by the fans, and scored one of the greatest goals at the Kassam against Luton.

They walk amongst us: A golf club manager at Heythrop Hall.

23 – Andy Melville

The 90s was full of great centre-backs, Andy Melville was among the best. The Welsh international and captain led the team through the early 90s before moving onto better things. Returned as a coach for five years.

They walk amongst us: Now works for a sports agency.

22 – Nigel Jemson

Arrogant and unpleasant, it was a good job Nigel Jemson scored goals. Nothing dented his belief that the world revolved around him. There were very few who were sad to see him leave. In our second game at the Kassam, Jemson, by that point at Shrewsbury, ran the game, goading us to defeat. Suddenly we missed him dearly.

They walk amongst us: Is an estate agent back in Nottingham.

21 – Stuart Massey

I’m not much of a fighter, but I will kill and kill again if anyone tries to argue against my view that Stuart Massey is the reason we were promoted in 1996. Beauchamp was too passive, Allen too raw; Massey demanded that players played to his strengths. When he got the ball to his feet he could drop a cross onto Paul Moody’s head from anywhere on the pitch.

20 – Darren Purse

Darren Purse was our back-up centre back behind Matt Elliot and Phil Gilchrist. But that masked the real talent he was. Occasionally fiery, it was clear from his early days that he would go onto greater things.

They walk amongst us: Director of football at Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northamptonshire.

19 – Kevin Francis

Not the most multi-dimensional player we’ve ever seen, but what Kevin Francis did, he did well. I’ve had Amazon Prime deliveries which have arrived quicker than it took for messages to make it from his head to his feet but when you launched a ball into the box usually bounced off his head into the goal.

They walk amongst us: Is now a policeman in Canada.

18 – Matt Murphy

Matt Murphy was considered an intellectual because he once worked in a bank. The go-to boo boy for any 90s London Roader, nobody around that time thought they were watching the 18th best player of the decade. Yet, that’s what he was, and someone who has rarely been bettered since.

17 – John Byrne

A beautifully complete player who was the perfect complement to Paul Moody in attack, it was a partnership too pure to last. But while it did, Byrne, with his trademarked goal celebrations and perfectly quaffed mullet was the cool cat to Paul Moody’s nerdy big brother.

They walk amongst us: Always great with his feet; he’s now a musculoskeletal podiatrist.

16 – David Rush

After Johnny Byrne (17) left, David Rush was the perfect foil for Paul Moody; he had all the movement Moody didn’t. If you were a defender, even if you could deal with one; the other was a completely different challenge. In the roistering final stages of the 1995/6 season; David Rush was just the player we needed. 

They walk amongst us: Manager and coach at GPS Academy in Malta.

15 – Paul Simpson

The early 90s didn’t create many stars, but Paul Simpson was undoubtedly one. A winger with an eye for goal and a darling to fans of a certain vintage. 

They walk amongst us: World Cup winning coach of the England Under 20s.

14 – Mickey Lewis

Everything that Mickey Lewis lacked in ability he made up for in commitment. In 350 games, he gave everything to the cause. His career petered out where he took up a number of coaching roles and, on two occasions 4 years apart, caretaker manager.

13 – John Durnin

The 90s were synonymous with lad culture, so there was nothing better than a player known to enjoy a pint and a fight. So, there was David Rush (16), and before that there was John Durnin.

They walk amongst us: Living a quiet life being a violent racist.

12 – Paul Powell

There were times when Paul Powell was the best player I ever saw, with the ability to turn a game on its head with a drop of the shoulder and a jinking run. I thought he’d play for England. But it all seemed a bit too much and he never quite hit the dizzy heights. A broken leg stalled his career and he was never the same again.

11 – Mike Ford

He had the turning circle of a super tanker and the full range of appalling 90s haircuts, but Mike Ford was a true leader.

They walk amongst us: Banbury United manager and lecturer at the Activate Learning Academy in Oxford.

10 – Phil Whitehead

God.

9 – Les Robinson

The definition of a loyal club servant. There was a period when it was difficult to imagine Oxford United ever starting a game without Les Robinson. It is hard to describe a player who never put a foot wrong in 458 games. 

They walk amongst us: Head of education at Swancliffe Park, a specialist autism school. So, still being brilliant.

8 – Bobby Ford

Bobby Ford looked like the captain of your school’s second eleven. A graceful playmaker, he was one of those players who seemed to loath his talent. Inevitably made his way to the top flight with Sheffield United, but gradually fell out of love with the game.

7 – Dean Windass

A brief, ill-advised fling during a period of despair. Windass was bought with money we didn’t have from Aberdeen. He snaffled a pile of goals, including one against Chelsea in the FA Cup which nearly put them out. Was sold to Bradford within a year and the proceeds went into paying Aberdeen the money we hadn’t paid for him. A moment of glorious madness.

They walk amongst us: Got caught up in a tax avoidance scheme and now manager at East Hull FC.

6 – Phil Gilchrist

With Matt Elliot he made the greatest centre-back pairing the club has ever seen; including Shotton and Briggs. Blessed with pace and strength, Gilchrist was an absolute powerhouse during the mid-90s.

They walk amongst us: Senior housemaster at Ratcliffe College in Northampton

5 – Chris Allen

The very definition of raw talent. When the pitches were good and there was a Unipart sign to run into there was simply nobody who could touch Chris Allen. With Joey Beauchamp on the other flank, we were flying. Sadly things went sour in 1996 and Allen headed for Nottingham Forest where his career rapidly went downhill. After a period working in a leisure centre, he gradually worked his way back to the club and became one of its most respected coaches.

They walk amongst us: Oxford United coach.

4 – Jim Magilton

Given the manner of his departure, within 24 hours of putting Leeds United out of the FA Cup in 1994, fourth is a pretty good result for Jim Magilton. Signed from Liverpool, Magilton possessed a touch and fitnesse which propped up an otherwise average mid-90s team.

They walk amongst us: Now Elite Performance Director at the IFA.

3 – Paul Moody

A battering ram of a striker who looked like he hated the game. Given that he played with Nigel Jemson (22) that was probably true. Yet, despite this he conjured up iconic moments including a sublime hat-trick at Cardiff, the second goal against Peterborough to clinch promotion and an Arab spring which looked like a bag of snooker cues being thrown down the stairs.

They walk amongst us: Runs his own building and renovation business.

2 – Matt Elliot

Anyone who saw him play compares every Oxford United defender to Matt Elliot. An impenetrable force at the back; unbeatable in the air, calm and cultured on the floor, an attacking threat as much a defensive rock. It’s difficult to imagine a better all-rounder.

They walk amongst us: Now runs ME Sports.

1 – Joey Beauchamp

Well, obviously. This list was never about Joey Beauchamp who was pretty much guaranteed top spot from day one. A better player than Matt Elliot? Maybe not, but nobody has the narrative Joey Beauchamp does. Preston have Tom Finney, Everton have Dixie Dean, we have Joey Beauchamp.

Midweek fixture: Panini Cheapskates’ Best Oxford United drawings

If you ever feel a bit sad, there’s worse you can do than check out Panini Cheapskates on Twitter who specialise in hand drawn football stickers. They claim to be bad at drawing, but that’s what’s so good about them. And, they’re local, from East Oxford. A couple of weeks ago they started drawing Oxford legends, which you can, and should, buy here. These are my favourites.

Matt Murphy

2000/01 was our worst season. It didn’t deter me from thinking recovery was around the corner. Playing Notts County and on our best run of the season. We went two up, Matt Murphy rounding the keeper to prod home his second, nearly colliding with the post as he did. He looked into the London Road and gave me what can only be described as the ‘come to bed eyes’ depicted here. We lost the lead, and the game on our way to relegation.

Mickey Lewis

I once drove past The Manor, Mickey Lewis was coming out from the shop in the garage outside the London Road. He had a copy of The Sun and was eating a chocolate bar, if he didn’t have a packet of fags, he should have. He looked like this, surprisingly similar Josh Widdicombe. Many years later I was at a wedding with Mickey Lewis which ended with him in the bar telling the story of our 3-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers in 1996 while dry-humping a chair.

Alan Judge

I was once chatting idly with a friend of a friend (of a friend) in the pub. Somewhere along the line it came out that I supported Oxford. She, struggling to have anything meaningful to say, but said she had once seen Oxford at Wembley. An old boyfriend had taken her. She got free tickets because he worked for the club, she said. His name was Alan, Alan Judge. I’ve got to say, having seen Judge here, I can know what she saw in him. Sexy.

Maurice Evans

Imagine being manager of Oxford United’s greatest ever team on its greatest ever day. Imagine all the credit for Oxford United’s team on their greatest ever day going to the opposition’s manager. While that sinks in, imagine in your haste you hand your greatest personal moment on the greatest day in the club’s history to the club’s physio, allowing him to pick up your medal. It’ll probably give you a clue as to why Maurice Evans he’s so angry.

Jim Magilton

Jim Magilton was such a mercurial talent, he could run games from midfield with his graceful touch and rangey passing. He was integral to our survival in the Championship in the early 90s. Days after orchestrating a stunning 3-2 FA Cup giant killing at Leeds, it was announced that Magilton was moving to Southampton. Here, Panini Cheapskates have caught the look he gave when he saw how much they were paying him.

Paul Moody

Paul Moody looked like he hated football. Half his Oxford career was spent with Nigel Jemson, who thought nothing of screaming in his face in front of the London Road. After winning promotion in 1996 Moody went to Fulham. five years later, with his body falling apart, Firoz Kassam paid a stupid amount of money to bring him back to appease increasingly angry fans. This is very much the face Moody would have pulled when he was told about the deal.

Roy Burton

Roy Burton kept goal for Oxford for nearly ten years. It was a formative experience standing in the London Road, gazing at his bum crack poking out the top of his shorts as he hoofed the ball downfield. Burton seemed to be a permanent fixture at The Manor, then one-day he was gone. Caught here, is his expression when he found out he’d spent his entire career showing his arse off to the crowd.

Peter Rhodes-Brown

Peter Rhodes-Brown was a graceful master on the wing and a magician with a dead ball. Sadly Rosie’s career was dogged by injury and he missed the Milk Cup Final in 1986. Despite retiring early, he stuck with us as community officer, radio commentator and general all-round good guy. What you see here is the tired look of despair of a man who has spent the last 30 years with 3,000 people singing ‘Chelsea reject’ at him just before 4pm every other weekend.

Paul Powell


Paul Powell was such a talent I thought he’d play for England. There are few players who could almost choose when to beat a team, fewer still playing for Oxford. There was talk of him moving to the Premier League, but never made it and his career petered out. This is the face of a man who thought smoking fags in Didcot was a good career move, but is wrong.

A small glimpse of Smalley?

The Internet doesn’t record the details, it doesn’t do that kind of thing. As a result, history has all but forgotten the game when Matt Murphy became a genius.

Murphy was the high priest of frustration. Playing in a half decent team he was the utility man, the spare part, the player who was good, but not quite good enough. He didn’t score goals like Paul Moody, he didn’t lock up the midfield like Dave Smith or Martin Gray and he didn’t create like Joey Beauchamp. He did all of those things, just not very well. To be fair we would probably kill for a player of his quality nowadays but at the time he was the most frustrating player in the squad.

The records tell us he’s our 10th highest ever goalscorer. That was because he had the canny lack of hitting a degree of moderate form at the end of every season; this alone seems to be the deciding factor in the renewal of his contract time and again.

As for his moment of genius, the sharpness of the image has faded over the years, I can’t remember the opponents or the year, but the smell, feelings, spirit, aura of the occasion remain with me. there were passes around the corner, probing runs and at least one heavy legged back heel.

As much as a former bank clerk from Corby can be, he was unplayable. the fact that performance remains etched in my memory has to put it up there amongst the greatest I have seen.

Except, after 20 minutes he pulled up with a hamstring strain and had to be substituted.

Was Dean Smalley’s performance during the 2-1 win over Plymouth the repeating of history? Did we see one of the great first half performances from a player whose Oxford career has frustrated all, including himself? A glimpse into nirvana, for a moment it seemed like Smalley was the answer to the Constable dilemma – a genuine alternative up front – but with his injury and half time substitution will he ever get to recreate it, let alone sustain, it?

In the first half we looked the efficient unit that has been a characteristic of our early season form. But, the second half, having lost Smalley and Forster-Caskey last seasons frailties emerged. Constable did OK, albeit as a target rather than a goal threat. However, Heslop and Pittman are not as neat and tidy as those they replaced. As a result we lapsed into a degree of complacency and over-rewarded Plymouth for their persistence with a goal (it was a decent strike, but we’d unnecessarily given them the territory they needed to set it up). Then the panic set in it, an uncomfortable meeting of past and present, like Marty McFly being fondled by his mum in Back to the Future.

Like Murphy’s 20 minutes of genius, or Smalley’s near perfect first half; the moments of brilliance can be fleeting. 3 games, 3 wins, now is not the time to be complaining.