Book Review: Oxford United The Complete Record – Martin Brodetsky

The challenge with committing any ‘complete record’ to print is that unless your subject matter has died, it is incomplete the moment it’s published. The trick, therefore, is to time your cut-off point right. Frustratingly for author Martin Brodetsky, Oxford United – The Complete Record takes its cut at 2009, a year before Wembley and our ascent back to the Football League.

Brodetsky, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an Oxford United giga-fan and owner of, perhaps, the greatest independent club website in the country. I can’t say I’ve looked that hard; but there cannot be a more comprehensive record of any club anywhere in the country than the old technological boneshaker that is Rage Online. Like the leaning tower of Pisa, structurally, it defies logic and I genuinely fear for its imminent collapse, but while it still exists, it’s a work of art.

The book of that site is a labour of love; although having searched for its details on Amazon, and been confronted with suggestions that I might like QPR – The Complete Record and Coventry City – The Complete Record; there is a strong suggestion that this from a publishing stable specialising in this kind of thing.

Anyone familiar with the pragmatic tone Brodetsky took with Rage Online’s match reports will recognise the approach taken to the complete record. It is a well researched, entirely linear, blizzard of facts. A bit like the world’s longest Wikipedia entry. This is necessary; there’s a lot to get through; although some peripheral analysis and ideas about why things turned out like they did would be useful; what role did Robert Maxwell dubious millions play in the Glory Years? What motivated Firoz Kassam? How did the club sustain its support during the Conference years when loyalty was hardly being repaid in results? This is a product of exhaustive desk research that, perhaps, would have benefited from some interviews with key protagonists of the times.

This is no criticism; if you didn’t publishing to a template the book wouldn’t exist. If you’re planning produce a complete record for a small club you need to play the percentage game; play it straight and do it efficiently. Plus, even if you did get more insight from the players and managers involved; would they say anything interesting? Those with something to say will probably save the best bits for their own books. If you’re going to write a page-turning saga of the club’s history; those with nothing to lose – the fans – may be the best people to tell it. Now there’s a thought.

If you were ever to do a thesis on Oxford United or you were a newcomer to the club with an urgent need to get up to speed, then this, like Rage Online itself, is the kind of text that you need. It is a definitive first port of call; a necessary if not always thrilling, read.

The main part of the book feels like a well built house; really well constructed and well proportioned. However, once the story concludes in 2009 there are still nearly 400 pages to go. These are filled with a non-exhaustive list of key games and players, a history of our stadia and an utterly exhaustive season-by-season record of every opponent, result, team, player and attendance. This is a bit like going into the back garden of the house to find all the building materials and tools piled up waiting for collection. The raw materials that fed the story are there for you to dissect, if you want to. It’s almost a complete download of the Rage Online site. It’s difficult to know what purpose it serves in the internet era; perhaps it’s offered up so that you can produce your own complete record. In reality it is merely padding; the bits that are left on the cutting room floor, nobody needs to know who Tony Obi played against. It’s included to up the pagination and add a few quid to the price.

There is a lot of gumpf out there by players and managers about the club and its history. These accounts are inevitably warped and bias. The Complete Record anchors all this in reality; and the corpus of Oxford United literature is all the better for it.