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.

World Cup of: Oxford United Goalkeepers

Runners and riders

So, the tournament format is simple; four groups of four players. People vote for their favourites via a Twitter poll. The top two qualify for the knock-out stages – head-to-heads in the quarter-final, semi-final and final, until you have a winner.

Choosing sixteen goalkeepers is pretty easy; I could have gone back to the 60s – Jim Barron was mentioned in despatches – but it seemed pointless. Plus, I couldn’t tell one decent keeper from yore from another. There was also the temptation of including players who were one-offs; there’s Elliot Jackson, who was in goal when we played Chelsea in 1999, or Mike Salmon who conceded seven against Birmingham in his one and only game.

No, in the end the choice was reasonably straight forward. A regularly starting keeper often stays for three or four years, meaning over a 30 year period the sixteen selected themselves.

Group A

Group A was a mixed bag; first up was Steve Hardwick, something of a forgotten man during our heyday. Hardwick was our first choice keeper during both title seasons between 1983 and 1985. He lost his place to Alan Judge when we got to the top flight meaning he missed the Milk Cup.

He was up against a clear contender in Ryan Clarke. Clarke, a legendary keeper in our promotion back from the Conference was in the sweet spot a first choice keeper with a notable success, that most people will remember him.

Andre Arendse was third; the South African international keeper was brought in at the start of the 2000 season. Despite having played in The Word Cup, Arendse was never likely to last long in such company.

And finally, Billy Turley; a classic terrace favourite; a bit of a clown and a decent, if erratic, keeper. Against him, though, was the fact he was between the sticks when we were relegated to the Conference in 2006. All said and done; most people will look back fondly.

Inevitably, Clarke took the honours with 77% of the vote with Billy Turley edging out Steve Hardwick for second.

Group B

There was no more one-sided group than Group B. Current glovesman, Simon Eastwood, was first out of the hat at which point it was all about who might finish second.

Chris Tardif, mostly an understudy to Billy Turley, was next with Ken ‘The Tree’ Veysey. Veysey played between 1990 and 1992. He was also in goal for Dorchester when we inflicted out 9-1 record win in 1995. There’s always one player who your not sure about including; Veysey was the man this time.

Finally, well regarded Andy Woodman completed the group. Woodman was Ian Atkins’ go-to man in 2002 and was part of an effective, if not particularly pretty, defensive unit which threatened, briefly, to get us promoted.

Inevitably, Simon Eastwood took the crown with no less than 90% of the vote; Andy Woodman joined him in the quarter-finals with 5%, inevitably the lowest qualifier.

Group C

It all kicked off in Group C. Benji Buchel, the Liechtensteiner who kept goal for a majority of our 2016 promotion season was the obvious choice to many. Let’s face it, Twitter is a young-ish crowd, anyone who helps recall such vivid memories is always going to do well.

But, the hipsters were having none of it. The three other contenders had their own qualities; like Krautrock or ambient house, if only the kids would spend time getting to know it, they would learn to look beyond the immediate.

Paul Reece was second up; Reece, like many Oxford goalkeepers, had a good rapport with the fans. Many London Roaders will remember him with fondness. He also had one thing up his sleeve; he was the man who put in, perhaps, the greatest goalkeeping display of any goalkeeper in our history. On live TV; the 1-0 win over Derby County.

Then, there was Pal ‘porn star’ Lundin, who alongside Arendse, kept goal at the turn of the millennium. And finally, there was Richard Knight one of our greatest goalkeepers in our worst ever team. Knight conceded over 100 goals in 2001, but still put in displays that earned him player of the season. He was so shellshocked by the experience, he never really recovered.

In the end Buchel’s early surge took it with 42% of the vote. Paul Reece devotees ensured a narrow second with 25%.

Group D

And finally, Group D. This was headed up by Alan Judge, the mullet haired goalkeeper in our Milk Cup win and a player whose appearances spread no less than 19 years due to a goalkeeping crisis in 2004 .

Second, was Sam Slocombe, who shared duties with Benji Bucheli in 2016. Slocombe never really lived up to expectations, and was always likely to struggle in such hot company.

Third was Roy Burton, the oldest contender in the competition. Burton was known for his enormous shorts falling down as he kicked the ball downfield with his bum crack regularly on show. They were different times.

And finally, there was God, Phil Whitehead. A giant of the 1996 promotion winning team, and surely a contender for the ultimate title.

In the end, Whitehead took the group with 44% of the vote, a tough battle saw Roy Burton edge out Alan Judge for second.

Quarter-finals

With the wheat and chaff separated, it was down to business. The first quarter-final saw Ryan Clarke up against Roy Burton. Clearly Clarke had currency on his side, taking 71% of the vote, but Burton, a genuine legend who wore the ‘keeper’s shirt for 11 years and whose last game was 37 years ago took a decent chunk of the vote.

Second up was the increasingly dominant Simon Eastwood against Billy Turley. Turley’s crowd pleasing banter was no match for Eastwood’s understated consistency, showing that ability was always going to outgun personality. Eastwood scorched away with 93% of the vote.

Perhaps surprisingly, Paul Reece’s gallant run to the quarter-finals came to an end at the hands of Andy Woodman. Again, Woodman probably benefitted from being slightly more recent than Reece, but Reece was the ‘keeper most people actively supported.

Finally, Benji Buchel was up against Phil Whitehead. Two promotion goalies; twenty years apart. But, Buchel was never the most convincing between the sticks and Whitehead was, well, God collecting 79% of the vote.

Semi-finals

There’s a point in every tournament when the immovable object meets the irresistible force. The semi-finals threw up the holy trinity of modern Oxford ‘keeping – Eastwood, Clarke and Whitehead, with Woodman bringing up the rear. They couldn’t all win.

The first semi-final was the first true clash of the titans. Ryan Clarke went up against Simon Eastwood. The result was perhaps a surprise, nobody doubts Simon Eastwood’s ability or influence on the current team, but has his legend cemented into Oxford folklore in the same way that Ryan Clarke’s has? Or is it that Clarke is already ancient history and we’re just getting old? It was Eastwood’s biggest challenge yet, and though less emphatic than previous rounds; 67% of the vote was still pretty resounding.

Semi-final two was perhaps more predictable. Andy Woodman was a solid cog in a solid team, but he was never likely to match Phil Whitehead. Whitehead romped home with 80% of the vote.

Final

And so to the final. Simon Eastwood v Phil Whitehead. Eastwood had streaked through the early rounds taking over 90% of the vote before trouncing a clear favourite. But, arguably – up to the semi-finals – he’d had the easier run. Also, Whitehead’s career is behind him, so his mistakes and failings are long forgotten leaving a unblemished record.

The early voting saw Whitehead streaking into the lead, a sign, perhaps, that there were more nostalgic types idly flicking through Twitter. Eventually, though, Eastwood began to claw it back and by the half-way stage was polling around 2/3rds of the vote.

Although in the second half of the vote, Whitehead pulled it back to 38%, the gap was too great. Simon Eastwood had won the World Cup of #oufc Goalkeepers.

The verdict

The right result? That all depends on what you’re voting for. The best keeper? The most legendary? If you’re talking personalities, then Billy Turley and Andy Woodman would be strong contenders. On ability alone, Steve Hardwick and Paul Reece were both exciting to watch.

For me, I’ll always fondly remember Roy Burton because he was the ‘keeper when I started going to The Manor. I’ll never forget his bum crack poking out from his shorts, or how impressed I was that he could kick the ball to the half-way line. I remember very clearly, the day he started wearing gloves thinking that he’d done the goalkeeping equivalent of landing on the moon.

But, the Holy Trinity of modern Oxford goalkeeping is Phil Whitehead, Ryan Clarke and Simon Eastwood. It was appropriate they made the semi-finals. For me, though, Eastwood is the junior partner in the trio, and his lasting place in it will depend on what happens in the rest of his time at the club. He’s a great keeper, but he needs a moment, a promotion perhaps, to truly cement his place in our history.

Of the other two; Phil Whitehead has the benefit of history, and the 1996 promotion, on his side. He also played at a higher level than the others. I can also remember a save against Port Vale which was nothing short of miraculous. Clarke, I remember more abstractly, as generally critical to our success. Promotion to the Football League, I think, was more important than ’96, but Clarke’s ‘moment’ was dropping the ball into his goal in the play-off final. A cruel thing to be remembered for, there were so many other times when he saved us.

All told, I think, just about, Phil Whitehead is still probably the best ‘keeper I’ve seen, but it’s pretty close.

Is Ryan Clarke Oxford’s greatest goalkeeper?

The funny thing about goalkeepers is they usually need to leave in order to make an objective assessment as to their quality. Unlike strikers, whose legend (or not) is forged in the here and now, most goalkeepers are treated well by fans and it is only some years later that a more considered view can emerge.
For example, in the 10 years at the Kassam, it is perhaps only Ian McCaldon who was butchered by the Oxford faithful whilst actually guarding his goal. Despite being in the doldrums, others like Woodman, Tardif, Turley and now Clarke (plus the odds and sods of loanees and juniors) have all been treated well. Perhaps it’s because goalkeeping looks genuinely difficult. Most of us can kick a ball reasonably straight and true – we can at least make some vague connection with what outfield players do, but how many of us naturally throw ourselves full length to the floor? Goalkeeping contains counter-intuitive actions, maybe we admire that.
So, it’s not really possible to make a genuine assessment as to where Ryan Clarke sits in the ‘legendary goalkeeper’ firmament. But lets try. Let’s look at the three aforementioned Kassam regulars. Andy Woodman was part of a sturdy defensive unit that included Matt Robinson, Scott McNiven, Andy Crosby and Matt Bound. They didn’t concede many goals, but, with hindsight, the ball seemed to rarely get to Woodman, so whilst being a solid component of a larger unit, he was a largely unremarkable keeper.
Time And Relative Dimensions In Football – Chris Tardif was equally unremarkable, but for different reasons. Unlike Woodman, he was exposed by a more porous defence and so was able to show off his shot stopping skills, but he wasn’t a significant and reassuring presence and so loses out on that count. We admired him for his exploits, but looking back, he was probably just benefitting from being used as target practice.
Billy Turley was my Kassam All-star XI goalkeeper. There were times when he was magnificent, outshining those around him time and time again. He was also a narcissist and his charming eccentricities did have a habit of getting the better of him. This happened most notably against Orient in the last game of the 2005/6 season and Exeter in the play-off semi-final 2nd leg in 2007 – the two most important games he played in. As I say, it is relatively easy to paint yourself as a great keeper when you have plenty of shots being fired at you, it’s saving them at critical times that counts.
Turley will forever be labelled an Oxford legend, and rightly so, but as time progresses, he will probably be known more in the Johnny ‘lager’ Durnin than Johnny ‘goals’ Aldridge sense. A character.
My frame of reference for The Manor goalkeepers stretches back as far as Roy Burton’s bumcrack. Burton was deeply loved and still is. Not surprising in that he kept goal for 11 years, from the Nothing Years right to the edge of the Glory Years. The memory of Burton, however was as much about his inability to hold up his shorts as it was his goalkeeping skills.
It is funny that we are uncompromising towards managers and other players, we consider football a ‘results business’ and if results don’t come we’re happy to diagnose instant redundancy. When it comes to goalkeepers, it seems we’re drawn more to their personalities; and specifically the ones that make us laugh.
The gap between Burton’s last game and Steve Hardwick’s first was a matter of weeks. I do remember the absolute shock of Paul Butcher taking up position in the green shirt (with blue shorts and yellow socks – just how it should be – none of this special outfit nonsense of today). 
During the boom years, Hardwick never seemed to concede a goal and my addled brain remembers him leaping higher than the cross bar to tip the ball over on a regular basis. I thought he was brilliant, but I thought everyone in that team was brilliant.
Given Hardwick’s contribution to the Glory Days, it was surprising that Alan Judge seemed to take over once we reached the 1st Division. It’s difficult to know how good Judge was, though. After 2 years of attacking devil-may-care, when everything seemed to go right for us, we were suddenly placed on the back foot as England’s top strikers attacked a defence forged in the lower leagues. The Guardian recently described that defensive unit – as legendary as it is to us today – ‘a disgrace’. Conceding goals and scratching out points was a sobering experience and whilst Judge will always be our Milk Cup Final keeper, he’ll also be one which was in a team which was constantly in a battle to stay up.
After Judge came a more fuzzy period. Peter Hucker was around for much longer than I remember, but it was difficult to see games in that time and perhaps for me his 1982 FA Cup final appearance for QPR eclipses his time in an Oxford jersey. Ken Veysey’s stay was brief but well regarded, unlike Paul Kee.
Then suddenly, one evening in 1993 Phil Whitehead appeared between the sticks. Whitehead grew to become a contender for the greatest keeper we ever had. He saw us through promotion in 1996 and down the other side. His sale to West Brom propped us up for a period. 
Like Clarke, he was playing behind a solid back-four but there were times when he pulled off the remarkable. I still remember this save against Port Vale in the League Cup as being utterly miraculous. The ball seemed to be sitting on the goalline with the striker ready to prod home, but from nowhere Whitehead appeared to parry it to safety. The thing I remember is that we were 2-0 up and cruising and yet Whitehead’s desire to get the block in was undiminished. That moment sticks in my brain to this day.
Post-Whitehead, there was another period of fuzzyness; Pal Lundin, Andre Arendse, Richard Knight, all had their moments in the sun with various levels of success. Knight, in particular, was a brilliant shot stopper, but we broke his spirit in the final season at the Manor as he conceded over 100 goals and still ended up player of the season.
So, is Ryan Clarke Oxford’s greatest ever goalkeeper? Given the nature of the opposition each keeper faced and the defences they stood behind, it’s a marginal call. For me, it’s between him and Phil Whitehead. However, on Tuesday, as Izzy Macleod stood over the ball ready to take the penalty, I had an unreasonable amount of confidence that he would save it. How often do you get to think that about a goalkeeper? He’s perhaps the only player from the Conference years who has shown no signs of needing to adjust in the Football League. 
On the other hand, Whitehead took us up in 1996 and was playing at a higher level. Clarke, of course, has been part of one promotion team – and you could argue that the Conference is one of the hardest leagues to get out of. If he manages a second promotion come May, perhaps then we can make the claim that he’s the number 1 number 1.