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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.