Lockdown wrap: The lunatics running the asylum

There’s a steam engine at the Science Museum where you can see the cogs and pistons working in mesmerising synchronicity. This week we’ve been exposed to the inner machinery of the Football League, it’s like someone has opened up the Flying Scotsman to find it powered by elastic bands, Sellotape and custard.

The centrepiece of the whole affair is, of course, what to do with the rest of the season since its suspension in March, and specifically, what to do with League 1. Agent provocateurs in the saga are Peterborough United who will lose most if the season is brought to a premature end. 

Peterborough are a two headed beast made up of owner Darragh MacAnthony and director of football Barry Fry. Fry, if you need reminding, once brought himself to near bankruptcy buying Peterborough before finding that he hadn’t bought them at all. In 2018 he was fined £35,000 and banned from football for betting irregularities. MacAnthony re-employed Fry, who would surely be unemployable in any other business, when the ban ended. MacAnthony himself was in court in 2012 accused of ‘theft by swindle and misappropriation of funds’ and was once forced by a court to pay an ex-employee nearly £160,000 in unpaid commission. 

The main thrust of Posh’s argument seems to be that because they’re going to win their remaining games, the season should be played out. Fry claims that teams are only ahead of them because of their results, which is obviously unfair. On Oxford specifically he argued that we were only third because ‘If Oxford hadn’t won [at Shrewsbury] they would be eighth and outside the play-offs’. The Peterborough press think this is a credible argument because we ‘only’ won after coming back from two goals down against ten men. Pfft, so not a proper win, then. Fry has more confidence in something that might happen in the future than something that objectively did happen in the past.

MacAnthony announced via Twitter that he was speaking on behalf of a number of teams, including Oxford, in saying they wanted to play. Oxford confirmed that this is their preference though they’ve yet to confirm whether they support some of MacAnthony’s other plans such as forcing teams to forfeit games or suing anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Let’s not forget that Oxford are largely unaffected by almost all scenarios being suggested, so a neutral position is probably more favourable than promoting one so obviously biased.

For example, Southend’s owner Ron Martin has called for the season to be voided for the purposes of ‘sporting integrity’. By extraordinary coincidence, voiding the season would save Southend from relegation. Southend are sixteen points from safety and may even be caught by Bolton who started with no players and minus-12 points. But, Martin argues, by not playing the remaining games we would never know if Southend could suddenly find title winning form, and that wouldn’t be fair, would it? 

OK, so let’s play, you might argue. On no, this isn’t possible either because we should only play ‘when it is safe to do so’, a phrase nobody understands. For Ron, there is no scenario by which we can complete the season safely, therefore VOID, VOID, VOID. 

Some players agree, a number are aghast that people are sick-minded enough to even talk about football when people are dying. This is one of those football humblebrags – acknowledging that people are dying while always using football as a central reference point. People are talking about lots of things happening while people are dying, in fact people die all the time while things are happening. The world is trying to find a way of functioning while minimising the risk. Football, it seems, cannot function without concrete certainty, including getting access to endless testing that’s not routinely available to most regular folks.

If only there were a central governing body in England to sort this mess out on behalf of the Football League, some kind of English Football League. The EFL have chosen to devolve responsibility for resolving their problem to the individual divisions. This is like the government devolving responsibility for managing the infection rate to each individual within the country. Yes, you can go to the beach, but use your common sense. Common sense, if it exists at all, is common to everyone, so if one person uses their common sense to go to the beach safely, so will thousands of others, it’s, well common sense. By devolving responsibility to resolving the issue to the clubs, the clubs are likely to use their common sense and back positions most favourable to them, that means there’ll be winners and losers which creates a schism.

Only in the last few days have the EFL finally provided a framework for resolution. But, if the Oxford Vaccine Group can start developing a vaccine for Disease X – an unknown virus which will cause a pandemic before it happens, you might think that the EFL could have come up with a democratic method for resolving ‘Critical Issue X’ – a massive unknown problem which would affect the entire league. It seems not, there appears no established decision-making protocol for proposing or choosing possible resolutions, it’s taken weeks to come up with one inviting the shysters and vagabonds into the vacuum.

Still, at least League 2 is all resolved and congratulations to Swindon Town for winning the title. Or have they? Court papers this week revealed that Swindon’s owner Steve Power has been less than honest with, well, everyone. Swindon are, in effect, owned by a company called Swinton Reds. Back in 2013 Power entered into an agreement with an anonymous investor to take a 50% stake Swinton Reds (and therefore Swindon Town). Michael Standing, who Oxford fans will remember for his seven-game stint in a yellow shirt including a 1-0 defeat at Histon claims he was the mysterious financial muscleman. Power, however, claims that he sold the interest to Standing’s friend and Premier League diesel Gareth Barry. Weirdly, this all happened in the same meeting and nobody took the time to clarify just who Power was talking to. In fact, seven years later, nobody has taken a moment to check who provided the money.

What’s more, Standing is Barry’s agent, and both are prohibited from having a financial interest in another football club. So, whoever is backing Swindon’s title appears to be doing so illegally. A fitting way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Swindon’s last demotion for financial irregularities, perhaps they’re planning to livestream a recording of the FA disciplinary panel meeting from 1990.

There are many challenges that have come out of this crisis, but also many opportunities. One can only hope that ridding the game of even a small percentage of these chancers would be a decent start.  

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Saturday afternoon takeaway

Saturday 29 February

Failure in the face of uncompromising hubris, blind self-belief and arrogant self-confidence. If only there were an analogy to describe Brexit Sol Campbell’s approach to managing Southend United. Henry James’ James Henry scored a penalty and Matty Taylor added a second to see us win 2-1 on Saturday.

Sunday 1 March

Brexit Sol wasn’t too upset by Saturday’s defeat, in fact, the footballing genius planned it that way. “Everyone stuck to the game plan” he said. Southend are now 17 points from safety; Southend by name, south end by nature. 

Monday 2 March

Facing his first blank week since before humanity was threatened by virulent killer diseases and cataclysmic weather conditions, KRob’s looking forward to sitting in his pants watching back-to-back Come Dine With Me on More4

He can’t rest on his laurels though; The Football League website have spent up to 8 seconds dreaming up an arbitrary evaluation Cameron Brannagain. The midfielder, who is interesting Leeds, is worth between £3-5m. So expect a bid of £75 and a bar of Toblerone to be accepted in May. 

Meanwhile, CoventryLive have plugged all their data into their ‘supercomputer’ – a Vic20 with added RAM pack – to predict that Coventry City will win League 1 with Oxford finishing 5th.

Tuesday 3 March

Sulky sixth former Rob Dickie has become Head Boy at Oxford after KRob gave him the captain’s armband for the rest of the season. The role affords him a lot of responsibility including a weekly evening hot chocolate in KRob’s office after his violin lesson. KRob’s promising to teach him how to play his oboe.

Wednesday 4 March

The chisel faced Ant and Dec, Sam Ricketts and Dean Whitehead have been talking about their lifelong friendship, which has now become a managerial partnership at Shrewsbury. Deano thinks players today are pampered and that his time at Oxford under Ian Atkins, with the likes of Julian Allsop around, made him the man he is today. “Pah” he might have said dismissively “Bananas weren’t for eating in them days, I can tell you.”

Thursday 5 March

Professional broomhandle, Niall, don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWilliams was the man in the hot seat for the Five Minute* Fans Forum on Radio Oxford. Talking in that controlled seething headmasterly way which makes Jerome Sale feel like he’s been caught spray painting a phallus on the wall of the science block, Coronavirus is at the top of the fans’ concerns. McWilliams confirmed that the club are working closely with Uncle Firoz to provide basic sanitary conditions at the stadium. 

There was also a question about the sold-out Wycombe game in a couple of weeks. Fans who have missed out have been up in arms after the club instigated a deeply unfair ‘first come, first served’ system. Some fans the club should allocate tickets to fans who can’t get organised to buy them, but really really want them anyway.

* and six seconds

Friday 6 March

It’s a light entertainment derby tomorrow as the chisel faced Ant and Dec come up against the marshmallow faced James Corden tomorrow. Sam Ricketts is trying to solve a goalscoring crisis which sees The Shrews second lowest scorers in the division. He’s planning to play with three strikers, Ian Atkins will be appalled

Meanwhile, Oxford council have announced their latest step fighting climate change, pandemics, Brexit and the rise of extremism. They’re putting new listening benches in Headington which will have wind up, solar powered listening devices featuring, amongst other things, a brief history of Oxford United. The benches will sooth people when the giant fireball that’s probably coming our way rips through humanity.

Midweek fixtures: Away days

A few weeks ago, out of curiosity, I started looking at some stuff about our away games. I got a bit carried away and disappeared down a ridiculously deep wormhole. I mean, I only looked at the last 20 years and only in the league, I’m not insane. This is what I found.

If you were mad enough to go to every Oxford United away game in the last 20 years then you’ve travelled 57,700 miles to league games (one way, double all of this for the return journey) with another 7,300 miles in the cups (OK, I looked at the cups a bit). On average that’s 2,700 miles a year in the league with 350 miles in the cup.

In the league we’ve played 102 different opponents, AFC Wimbledon being the most frequent – 16 times.

The worst year for travel was in 2002/3 when we ate up no less than 3,400 miles, compared to 2000/01 when we just travelled just 2,221 miles, anyone around during that season will agree that it was probably the best thing about it.

Most travelled

Devon is a lovely place to go on holiday, we’ve chomped up more miles travelling to Torquay United than any other club; 2006.

  1. Torquay United 2006
  2. Rochdale 1958
  3. York City 1840
  4. Plymouth Argyle 1634
  5. Bury 1577
  6. Accrington Stanley 1528
  7. Scunthorpe United 1523
  8. Morecambe 1463
  9. Southend United 1359
  10. Carlisle United 1340

Least travelled

Our single trip to Hayes and Yeading in the league puts them at the top of the least number of accumulated league miles we’ve travelled (or bottom of the most number of miles, depending how you look at it).

  1. Hayes and Yeading 44
  2. Reading 50
  3. St Albans 55
  4. Swindon Town 92
  5. Brentford 107
  6. Lewes 111
  7. Cardiff City 118
  8. Kettering 124
  9. Ipswich Town 139 
  10. Sheffield United 143

Lowest miles per point

It has long been debated (and largely rejected) that Wycombe Wanderers is a derby, but it is the shortest distance (sorry, Swindon is 30 miles away from the Kassam, seven more than Wycombe). By some distance, Wycombe is the most efficient place to travel in terms of miles per point; we only have to travel 1.5 miles for every point gained.

  1. 1.5 Wycombe Wanderers
  2. 3.7 Cheltenham Town
  3. 4.3 AFC Wimbledon
  4. 4.7 Bristol Rovers
  5. 5.1 Swindon Town
  6. 5.6 Northampton Town
  7. 5.7 Dagenham & Redbridge
  8. 6.3 Forest Green Rovers
  9. 6.4 Burton Albion
  10. 6.8 Kidderminster Harriers

Lowest miles per point (+100 miles)

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and fancy a game more than 100 miles away, you’d do worse than head for our bogey team Southend United. Despite some terrible results, we only need to travel 8 miles for every point we’ve won.  

  1. 8 miles per point Southend United
  2. 10.3 Notts County
  3. 11 Bury
  4. 11.7 Mansfield Town
  5. 12 Plymouth Argyle
  6. 12.3 York City
  7. 13.2 Lincoln City
  8. 14 Gillingham
  9. 14 Torquay United
  10. 14.3 Ebbsfleet United

Highest miles per point

You’d do well to avoid a trip to Barrow; just two trips north, taking one point means that it’ll cost you 251.6 miles for every point gained. Of course, lots of this is skewed by a lack of frequency. Among teams we’ve played five or more times, Fleetwood Town is the bogey team, costing a mammoth 101.9 miles for every point. 

  1. 251.6 miles per point Barrow
  2. 125.8 Sunderland
  3. 191.4 Hull City
  4. 165.4 Huddersfield Town
  5. 117.7 Cardiff City
  6. 100.8 Lewes
  7. 110.8 Yeovil Town
  8. 101.9 Fleetwood Town
  9. 94 Bournemouth
  10. 89.3 Carlisle United

All of which is very interesting, but not as interesting as hitting the road in hope and expectation, screaming yourself horse and praying for for three points.

Match wrap: Oxford United 2 Southend United 1

In 1987 Terence Trent D’Arby released his debut album Introducing The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby. It was a tightly produced record borrowing heavily from the funk and soul classics of James Brown and Stevie Wonder. D’Arby himself was a phenomenal presence with a sensational voice; the tight rhythms gave him the platform to perform. It was an instant classic, selling 1 million copies in three days and winning a Grammy and Brit Award.

Two years later, emboldened by his success, D’Arby released his follow-up opus; Neither Fish Nor Flesh. He produced and wrote the record himself, unhindered by his previous production team. It was a sprawling mess of pretentious diarrhoea. To illustrate his indulgence; D’Arby appeared in three different guises – as himself, the Incredible E.G. O’Reilly and Ecneret Tnert Ybra’D, the latter accredited with providing ‘vocals and kazoo’. It bombed, and D’Arby’s career was largely over.

I was reminded of this sobering tale as we laboured to three points against Southend. In the past, having seen us fall apart against poor sides too many times, I would worry about our complacency in this kind of game. Now, I have such confidence in the side, I’m the one who risks being complacent. Such has been our desire to entertain and score goals, I expected us to sweep them aside.

From the get-go, something was up; but it wasn’t just our obvious fatigue or the fact we were playing into a headwind. We were untroubled by the clock with little sense of urgency. This isn’t that unusual, our patience at the start of games must be a deliberate tactic; we’ve come unstuck with it a few times this year when teams have started quickly.

But, then it started to feel like a cup game against a non-league side. Us, not quite able to muster the energy to really take the game to them, them providing a confusing mix of ability and ineptitude. As the game progressed, we got bundled up in their ball of confusion like a pair of trousers becoming entwined with a duvet cover in a tumble drier.

Terence Trent D’Arby openly declared his genius to anyone who’d listen, and many who wouldn’t. He surrounded himself with people who agreed with him, which provided no compulsion to compromise. He claimed (to some degree justifiably) the failure of Neither Fish Nor Flesh to be the result of institutional racism at his record company, when to most of the paying public, it was just a terrible record and he was an arrogant arse.

Did someone say Sol Campbell? Aside from the weather and the tiredness, what was particularly difficult to deal with on Saturday was the apparent lack of any tactical underpinning in the Southend team. They looked physically tiny; when fighting relegation its normal to at least establish a physical presence, but Campbell doesn’t seem concerned with that. Neither were they fast, nor did they press, but at the same time, they weren’t awful.

Where was the song? Amidst a mess of ideas and endeavours, there was no recognisable pattern. There was nothing for us to dance, sing or cry to, we seemed bemused, unable to engage. What resulted was a game of jazz noodling and meandering experimentation. Perhaps there was genius in there somewhere, but the nine minute kazoo solo ensured we couldn’t hear it.

In the end, it took Marcus Browne’s brutish physicality to break through the garbage, like a drummer hammering out a standard four-four beat to bring the other musicians into line. Like D’Arby’s original production team, sometimes you need someone to step in and drag everyone back to what you’re supposed to be achieving.

Browne chased across the field to rectify his own mistake and then swung the ball into the box for Matty Taylor to fire home. While others celebrated, Browne lay on the turf like a dying bumble bee having fulfilled its biological compulsion to protect its fellow bees after a sting. At that moment we needed that discipline and simplicity.

And that was all we needed, to get out of February with three points and a place in the play-offs. Sometimes it’s OK to have a staccato syncopated rhythms inspired North Africa, sometimes you just need a groove and a decent hook.

George Lawrence’s Shorts: Karlito’s away

Saturday 22 February 2020

The big back wheels fell off The Tractor Boys’ promotion hopes on Saturday as Oxford strolled to a win 1-0 at Ipswich Town. Matty Taylor and James Henry combined to harvest the winner just before half-time.  

Sunday 23 Feb February 2020

Shandon The Baptiste has been talking about his step up to the Championship. ‘It’s the intensity that’s different’, said Baptiste reading from his Beginners Guide To Things To Say When Stepping Up A Division. The mind boggles when KRob’s ‘low intensity’ is like having colonic irrigation from a Karcher jet washer.

Monday 24 February 2020

Accrington are in town tomorrow and we’ve got some injury woes. Nathan Holland, Jedward Orphan Mark Sykes and Anthony Forde are all doubts. As a result Rob Atkinson has been recalled from Eastleigh. If Oxford United do throw away their chances of promotion, it’ll probably hit one of our midfielders and put them out of the game for six months.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Accrington, a team that was formed solely for the purpose of being a punchline to a milk advert, were semi-skimmed alive on Tuesday in a 3-0 win. Matty Taylor delivered the first before James Henry had the bottle to add a second, Taylor gold-topped it off with the third. We are now in such great form only a global pandemic can stop us.

The game was marred by the news that the club have turned down a move from Blackpool for KRob. It was the most unwelcome proposition in Blackpool since Rear View Rita, the landlady of the Seafront Vista B&B, suggestively offered GLS an extra special donkey ride on holiday last year.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

The club have acted quickly to quash those Blackpool rumours as KRob stood by smiling awkwardly like a Tory MP’s wife after he’d been caught in a flat in Streatham wearing a nappy and snorting talcum powder. 

Elsewhere, Shandon The Baptiste has continued his goalscoring form at Brentford neatly slotting past his own goalkeeper after nine minutes against Luton Town.

Thursday 27 February 2020

It was the Six Minute Forty One Second Fans Forum with KRob on Thursday, who at the time of writing is the manager of Oxford United. In it he removed all doubts about his future saying that the board hadn’t given him any reassurances and he didn’t want a new contract. He also reminded us how he walked out on Charlton mid-season. He’ll be on holiday when the club have their pre-season training camp in Spain and if we end up playing Swindon next season getting a good result it’ll be ‘nothing to do with him’. So that’s quashed that one.

Friday 28 February 2020

The greatest mind in football, Brexit Sol Campbell brings his Southend side to the Kassam on Saturday. Brexit Sol is on a different paradigm to us mortals, he joined the Shrimpers with the explicit intention of getting them out of the division as quickly as possible. So, while everyone else tries to get out via the top, Sol’s found a secret exit at the other end nobody else has thought of. Genius. He reckons with the application of his great intellect, he’ll be out of there by March.

George Lawrences Shorts: Pep-etual emotion

Saturday 23 November 2019

GLS is an aficionado of the game’s finer points; so it wasn’t the four goals that impressed us against Southend on Saturday, it was the build up play. The Southend defence managed to cut themselves to ribbons before playing in Matty Taylor for our first after just 53 seconds. Consistency is the mother of perfection, and they did it again twenty minutes later for James Henry to score. Matty Taylor added a third before Dan Agyei hoovered up the fourth to polish off a 4-0 win.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Southend fans needn’t worry, in Brexit Sol Campbell they’ve got one of the finest minds in football at the wheel. “It’s work in progress and it’s not easy.” said the man who previously said “it’s not like it’s rocket science to run a football club, especially when you get to that level.”

The fans are certainly enjoying Brexit Sol; and have taken to the Southend Echo to sing his praises “Gutless, spineless performance. No fight or passion. Gone beyond embarrassing now.” said one.

Monday 25 November 2019

Old Braveheart himself, Chris Hargreaves has been linked with the vacant Grimsby job. He’s a long-haired lunger from Liverpool Cleethorpes who made millions from signing-on fees having played for nine clubs including two spells with Oxford. After retiring, he wrote the celebrated journal ‘Where’s Your Caravan’ a book about the racial stereotyping of the travelling community.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

There was some proper yellow-on-yellow warfare going down on Tuesday as former Oxford loanee Garry Monk unloaded on his ex-colleague and former Oxford United environmental disaster, PClot, ahead of Birmingham City’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday.  

Monk, who played five games on loan at The Manor in 2000, said of Clotet “You show them [his staff] complete trust and you hope they repay that trust with hard work and loyalty. Sadly not everyone has those values in their character”.

Tough stuff. Of course, there are two sides to every story, so in his defence, PClot had Dwight Tiendelli at full-back. 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The Argentine Alfie Potter, Diego Maradona, has taken to Instagram to praise long ball merchant Peter Leven who has assistant-steered Dynamo Brest to the Belarussian League title. Leven admits that on being offered the job he had to Google the word ‘Brest’. He’d have got away with it if he hadn’t also claimed to have been offered a job at Sweet Ass Bromwich Albion.   

Thursday 28 November 2019

It was the Eight Minute Fans Forum on Radio Oxford with KRob, who managed to keep a straight face when he revealed the club had put in a bid for Chris Cadden, whose loan deal from Columbus Crew was definitely not a cynical move to avoid paying Motherwell development compensation. KRob also suggested that now he’s retired, James Constable could open a coffee shop, he makes a lovely Damian Batt-enberg Cake.

Friday 29 November 2019

Worrying news as Oxford United’s injury crisis deepens ahead of their FA Cup tie against Walsall. 30-goal-a-season peace envoy Kashif Siddiqi looks set to be out for a few weeks. Siddiqi is on loan at East Bengal, a region of India dogged by war and political instability. Apparently the injury was considered fairly mild until he heard their next opponent had a dangerous winger and a striker who was deadly in front of goal, he could feel his hamstring tightening by the second.