George Lawrences Shorts: Exiter Pity

Saturday 30 November 2019

A master of his craft, even at 35 James Constable still knows where the goal is. He was stood right behind it for our 1-0 annihilation of Walsall in the FA Cup on Saturday. Beano was welcomed into the away end with open arms, but wouldn’t be drawn on his rebuffing of an Italian former Swindon Town manager with right wing peccadillos.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Walsall manager Darryl Clarke is a barrel of laughs isn’t he? He had nothing but uplifting and positive comments for his charges following their exit from the FA Cup “My players aren’t at their level, anywhere near it to be honest at the minute.” said ray of sunshine Clarke.

Alongside the bearded lady and the pushmepullyou, Sheffield United are turning into one of history’s great freakshows. The Telegraph – who always look at outsiders with suspicion – did their 426th profile of Christophe Wilde on Sunday and how he dragged himself up by the bootstraps. The story has acquired magical legend now featuring a magical sprite, pocket racist, Sam Deering; ‘his best player’ when he joined Oxford in 2008.

Monday 2 December 2019

If it’s Monday, then it must be another reference to rummaging in a velvet ball bag. Oxford have been drawn to play either Our Friends in the North – Hartlepool or our friends in the South – Exeter City

Tuesday 3 December 2019

To the Championship, all the way. Stat virgins FiveThirtyEight have crunched the numbers on our current form and predicted that we’ll finish second in League 1 this season.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Oopsy. Oxford missed out on a trip to Wembley for a game against Bournemouth’s Walking Football Team in the MySpace.com Trophy on Wednesday. The 0-0 draw meant there were only marginally less goals than supporters. We trolled the competition by missing three penalties in a row in the shoot out. That’ll show them.

Before the game KRob said he’d secured the services of a stand-in ‘keeper after Simon Eastwood picked up a boo boo on his knee against Walsall. As an early for Christmas parlour games, KRob mimed some clues as to his identity; four syllables, promoted from League 1, full international. This rules out Alan Judge, which is a shame as he was ironing his goalie gloves in preparation for a recall at the time.

Thursday 5 December 2019

It was the Seven Minute Six Second Fans Forum on the radio on Thursday with charisma hoover Niall don’t call me Niall, it’s Niall McWilliams. Mrs Don’t Call Me Niall McWilliams will be pleased to hear that he mostly plans to do his Christmas shopping in the club shop, so she’ll be stealing herself to smile thankfully when she unwraps her novelty Jamie Hanson thong and bra set on the big day.

Friday 6 December 2019

It’s everyone back to the Kassam on Saturday to watch eager families heading into Vue to watch Frozen 2. The visitors are Shrewsbury who are led by angle faced ex-Oxford full-back Sam Ricketts.

Oxford’s glovesman will be Jordan Archer who has been signed to cover Simon Eastwood. Archer was released by Millwall in the summer and appears to have been scratching a living as a Kane Hemming’s impersonator. The job involves turning up to things which have long been decided and taking credit for its success by making a last-minute meaningless contribution.

Match wrap: Walsall 0 Oxford United 1

My first proper away game, where I was undeniably part of the away following, was an FA Cup game against Coventry City in 1982. Everything about it felt epic; the M40 wasn’t complete, so we went cross country and it seemed to take hours, we took a huge following having beaten Brighton in the previous round, there was trouble throughout the game which was so bad it was referenced in the Hillsborough report. While we lost 4-0, I loved it.

Standing in a queue for a coffee at Warwick services on Saturday, I became conscious of someone talking behind me. I turned to see a little boy, probably about three, and his dad. The boy was wearing the same Oxford shirt as my daughter and was commenting on it. There’s something I love about services on a Saturday lunchtime, the mix of fans criss-crossing the country to see their team. The little boy was joining the movement, perhaps for the first time. I hope that for him, this all was feeling as epic as my trip to Coventry.

On arriving we found ourselves nestled among the hoodlums and vagabonds of Oxford regulars. Hoods up, glaring menacingly, part excitement and tension, part toxic masculinity.

The world is split into two – those who sit in their allocated seat at an away game, and those who don’t. Behind me was an older couple, South Stand Upper regulars, for sure. They were the former, but that’s what makes an away following; that weird mix of people who wouldn’t normally spend time together.

Then as the warmth of a couple of hours in the car was seeping out and the cold creeping in, I could see the club’s SLO Kath Faulkner purposefully making her way into the stand as a song about James Constable struck up from behind. Eventually I spotted him, Oxford’s number nine. She weaved her way through the fans and deposited one of Oxford greatest players in amongst us; a genuine Oxford legend, about three seats away.

The faces of the regulars behind me, all grim and serious, beamed in awe; they may only have been in single figures when Constable was in his pomp, blasting us back to the Football League. His presence seemed to rekindle the child in them.

There we were; club legends, first timers, old timers, regulars and, well, we’re all irregulars when you stick with a club like ours.

How to judge the current incarnation of the team we’re here to follow? We’re in uncharted water to compare them to most norms of the club. The pace at which we play is bewildering, the results unprecedented, Walsall’s response was to pack everyone together in the hope of withstanding the storm. Despite the crowds of players in the middle of the park, Chris Cadden seemed to hide on the touchline, time and again, he was played down the flank, seemingly unnoticed by the Walsall defence.

Clearly the better team; what was needed was a moment to unlock their massed defence. One wedged pass by James Henry had me yelping at the audacity of it all, there were other moments of trickery which drew gasps.

The minutes ticked on, and though the result wasn’t in doubt, it seemed a question of whether it would be achieved over 90 or 180 minutes. It’s genuinely difficult to see where we’re weak at the moment, the biggest challenge could be our success and the volume of games we face because of it.

Then, in a flash, Chris Cadden finally found a new angle, one that Walsall hadn’t covered, James Henry flashed across and guided the ball into a tiny space between the ‘keeper and post. Like one of those drawings where a new image emerges if you stare at it long enough. Nobody had seen that pattern. 1-0.

The place erupted; it happened so quickly, I didn’t see who’d scored, I turned to see the regulars falling over themselves, and the couple in front of them becoming buried in the melee. The elderly chap was trying to protect his wife who appeared to have fallen over. There was no malice; while some were celebrating wildly, others were trying to give her space to recover.

Momentarily you worry; she could be hurt or even have collapsed, and then she popped up; her hood covering her face. She adjusted it so she could see, revealing a broad grin. She seemed to have enjoyed every moment; that sort of thing doesn’t happen in the South Stand, perhaps it’s why she chose to come in the first place.

And that was that; another win in a tournament whose value is built on its tradition. Old, young, legendary and anonymous all coming together for one purpose. In a world of division, the unifying power of a football club is truly a force for good.

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. 

George Lawrence’s Shorts: For Leven’s sake

Saturday 16 November 2019

If you’re an Oxford fan; when the fun stops, don’t stop. There was no game on Saturday, but the draw for the MySpace.com Trophy more than made up for that. Like the FA Cup draw being on BBC prime time TV, this was given all the prestige it deserved; being made during a 2003 re-run of Top Gear on Dave. We play Exeter away.

Elsewhere chisel faced millennium guy Dean Whitehead left his role at Huddersfield to become coach at Shrewsbury, who are managed by chisel faced millennium guy Sam Ricketts.

KRob had no one to talk to, so he talked to the Blood Red Podcast. He talked about coaching Ben ‘Woody’ Woodburn, Trent ‘Trento’ Alexander-Arnold and Deli ‘Delo’ Ali. It’s so difficult to keep track of all his previous charges, if the players KRob coached were his children, he’d give Boris Johnson a run for his money.

Monday 17 November 2019

When he played for Oxford his head wrote cheques his legs couldn’t cash, but that won’t worry Armand Gnadulliet, who is being linked with Derby County and been added to a team of the season in front of a yellow wall of James Henry, Cameron Brannagan and Tariqe Fosu.

Meanwhile, he may look like he’s just been caught smoking behind the music block, but The Mirror has hailed sulky sixth former Rob Dickie as the new Harry Maguire

Tuesday 18 November 2019

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; KRob has asked for a GoPro and a Stretch Armstrong for Christmas, or failing that Matty Taylor. It’s one of three areas he feels need addressing in the January transfer window. 

The claim that Oxford United are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen is a bit of a stretch. But it turns out we do effectively run New Zealand. After the revelation that Ceri Evans is the secret behind the All Blacks miserable semi-final exit in the Rugby World Cup, former Oxford coach Des Buckingham has been talking about taking the footballing Kiwis he’s leading to next year’s Olympics.

Wednesday 19 November 2019

The FA Cup is full of magic, as Walsall and Darlington fought it out for the right to host the Mighty Yellows in the second round. A wave of the wand and slight of hand resulted in all skill and entertainment disappearing in a puff of smoke. In the end Walsall triumphed 1-0.

Elsewhere, a penalty shoot out between Taunton and Truro nearly toppled Oxford’s record after it took thirty-four kicks to settle Southern League Challenge Cup tie.

Thursday 20 November 2019

It was the Six Minute Forty-Six Second Fans Forum with marketing hotrod Matt ‘Kenny’ Everett on Thursday. He answered fans questions in the best possible taste. He announced the intention to have a Student Night in the New Year. The themed game will serve Snakebite for £1, have discounts for dungarees, while a Levellers tribute act will play at half-time. The concern is that with the game kicking off at 7.45pm, it may be a struggle for many of the students to get out of bed in time. 

Friday 21 November 2019

It’s Mark Rawle Day tomorrow as we’re back in action against Southend who are managed by stable genius Sol Campbell. Campbell famously said how easy it is to manage in the lower leagues. His job must be getting easier every week as the Shrimpers plummet down the table.

Meanwhile, Tap-in Tarquin, Peter Leven is on the verge of the Champions League with outsiders Dynamo Brest in Belarus where he now coaches. Leven compares the achievement to Leicester winning the Premier League. Well, we know how much Peter Leven likes a long shot.

The wrap: Walsall 1 Oxford United 3

The Bescot Stadium was a new one for me. I’d often seen the sign off the M6, and the main stand poking above the flyover and thought it an obvious one to tick off the list. The problem was that though we are, in many ways, similar clubs, we haven’t met that frequently. Yes, three times in the last three years, but before that there had been a sixteen year gap.

I was looking forward to it; the stadium is complete and compact in a classic lower league style. The relatively short journey, plus our good form, was sure to draw a decent following. Plus, there was a little less tension now we were sitting loftily in 12th.

In fact, the ground a curiosity, apparently designed by an architect who missed his lecture on cantilever structures. Rather than clean sight lines, socking great girders prop up the roof, obstructing the view. I’ve been to old grounds and sat in areas with poor views, but that’s more because seats had been installed where they were never intended to be, the problem at the Bescot seems to be obviously avoidable.

I’d known about this beforehand, but underestimated how bad it was. To top it off, their main stand, more modern and offering unobstructed views and corporate hospitality – their equivalent of our South Stand – is behind the goal rather than down the side, the whole stadium does its best to stop people from watching the game.

This season, that’s probably not a bad thing if you’re a Walsall fan, they’re a poor team and are surely set to go down. It was only our gift of Curtis Nelson’s dithering, then Marcus Browne’s lunging tackle, resulting in his red card, that made it competitive.

Browne’s sending off could mean we don’t get to see him again. He’ll have a three match ban, which will bring us perilously close to the end of the season, and I wonder whether Karl Robinson will be bothered about giving him game time before he heads back to West Ham.

In reality, Browne’s sending off probably made the game harder for them. Fitness no longer seems to be a major factor when you lose a player, and it probably forced us to be more tactical. They didn’t have the ability to breakdown a team whose first instinct was to defend what they had.

There weren’t many chances, it wasn’t a great game, but we were prepared to attack when we could. Sam Long drove into the box to cross for Luke Garbutt who set himself to bury it. It reminded me of Trevor Hebberd’s goal in the Milk Cup, it seemed to take an age to get his feet right and shoot. I didn’t see it hit the back of the net – those obstructed views again – but there was little doubt from the sea of bodies and the cacophony of noise around me.

Garbutt, the release from a torrid season evident, headed directly to where we were, fists clenched, eyes bulging. Around us were a large number of latecomers from the pub who hadn’t been able to barge their way to the back of the stand. There seemed to be a moment when Garbutt realised what he was heading into – a seething mass of Adidas trainers, Stone Island jumpers and coats with goggles in their hoods. There was fear in his eyes, but he was fully committed and piled in anyway, disappearing into the morass. The unlikeliest player to bond the team with the fans.

Jerome Sinclair’s celebration for his clincher was more controlled; perhaps he’d learned from Garbutt. Cameron Brannagan didn’t hold back though, he’d been fiercely competitive throughout, and ended in the melee, arguing with stewards. In any other world, I’d have been appalled by it all – and there is a post somewhere about the toxicity of patriarchy at football – I’ll save that for a defeat – but in the moment, this was glorious.

Rob Dickie seemed to do some sterling work calming things down. He’s coming of age on and off the pitch. His goal was fairly routine, but his overall game is hopefully showing that we may not miss Curtis Nelson, when he inevitably leaves, as much as we thought we might. The benches cleared, leading to Ahmed Kashi also being sent off, which I found out 3 hours later. He’ll serve a one-match ban, but I hoe we see him again next season; nobody else is as efficient with the ball.

We’re pretty much safe and with no chance of the play-offs we can start to reflect. We may not yet be fixed – particularly as we continue to be dogged off the field – but this run is rebuilding some faith and, more importantly, a bond between the team and those who follow it.

The wrap – Oxford United 1 Walsall 2

It’s easy to be drawn into the idea that the blame for a problem is everyone else’s fault, or worse, that a problem is so normal you no longer recognise it as a problem, it’s just how it is. If you have no concept of what good looks like, you accept that what you have and that’s where you stay.

Saturday’s fan forum confirmed something to me that I didn’t realise I had an opinion about. It’s time to leave the Kassam Stadium. 
A vision isn’t about wild unspecific ambition; it’s about painting a picture of a future state which takes you out of your existing state and sets you on a path to something else. The club said they’re ‘actively considering’ a move; which doesn’t go far enough for me. To actively consider something, says that we’re thinking that we might think about it. A vision should disambiguate that statement – something like; we don’t see the club being at the Kassam in ten years time.
We are in an abusive relationship with Firoz Kassam. While constantly dangling the carrot of a better future – the sale of the ground to the right people – he punishes us with punitive rents and court battles. He paints a picture that we should be grateful to him for first saving the club and then giving us a new home and, to some extent, we have grown to believe all this. It is true, he did save us and give us a new ground, but for nearly 20 years, he’s been mean and spiteful. Our mindset is that he looks after us, so if we look after him, he’ll be happy. Even if, in reality, we’re not happy and even though there is nothing we can do to make him happy.
After such a long time, we have to accept there’s little prospect of anything changing. So it’s time to take control; and the first step is to say that the Kassam Stadium is no longer in our future vision.
This is not to say that any move is imminent, or that a sale cannot be achieved, but it breaks us out of the idea that after 20 years of this behaviour, Firoz Kassam is going to turn up one day in a collaborative mood ready to make a deal. There has been no evidence of that happening in the past, therefore, why should we plan on the basis that it might happen in the future?
Kassam might simply shrug his shoulders, he can always build houses on the land and make a lot of money from the site. It takes a special lack of empathy to be a slum landlord. He’s right, of course, it is his life, his money and his land. But we don’t need to exist to serve him. 
The club has existed in this state for too long, even some diehards on the phone-in talked about ‘good times’ at the Kassam, but in seventeen years, there are precious few and those typically result from the exhaustible generosity of owners – Ian Lenagan when we got promoted from the Conference, and Darryl Eales when we got promoted from League 2. Those successes weren’t brought about by the stadium, in the way The Manor played its part in our successes of the 80s and in 1996. They happened in spite of where we were playing. Even when the ground is full of colour and noise, you can see if the ball has hit your car in the car park like we’re a non-league team. If Kassam had any empathy – or any long term vision of us as a successful club which he could benefit from – he’d have finished the stadium and developed it in line with modern football. He doesn’t, as long as we give him money, he won’t take us to court. It’s no way for us to live.
There is likely to be an explosion of investment as the Cambridge to Oxford expressway is developed; football has always been popular, but it’s now mainstream, middle class and acceptable. It seems absurd that Oxford’s football club is such an outlier in the city’s entertainment landscape. If you live around the city, the local club is hardly a place to take the family for a fun day out. 
Incidentally, I liked Jerome Sale’s suggestion that the club’s nickname should change to The Manors; the U’s is a terrible nickname anyway, and it would reflect a time when we were part of something bigger. Bringing the club and city together, as Tiger has alluded to, has to be part of the vision.
It’s difficult to think that Karl Robinson is part of the grand vision for the club, no manager or player is, or should be. Most don’t last more than a couple of years, so they’re a chapter in the story rather than the story itself. 
He didn’t have a good day, of course; he was the first manager to admit that the ground was poor. The negative tone seemed to seep into the afternoon, which was cold and miserable. The performance was familiar – plenty of chances, lots of corners, very little that lifts you out of your seat. We were beaten by a team that was simply more efficient and organised. 
We played like Robinson’s sideline persona – all energy and no discipline. For the first goal – and the incorrect suspicion that it was offside – he looked up to the gantry in the South Stand wanting to get confirmation either way from those filming the game. He even tried to get the fourth official to refer the decision as if it were some kind of VAR system. It was ridiculous, but Robinson was caught up in the moment and didn’t seem to be thinking straight.
Afterwards he seemed particularly downbeat, he’d encouraged the team not to push it, but they hadn’t responded. Perhaps they’re more influenced by his arm waving than by his words. I think he’s a better manager than he’s currently showing, but he seems to be overwhelmed with his emotions at the moment. Ludicrously high on the field, childlike and sulky off it. 
He’s right, we don’t have the players to naturally simplify our style – Marcus Browne being the most obvious – but Robinson’s own actions can’t be helping. Players are trying hard to make things happen, but it’s their lack of organisation, discipline and clear headedness – the on-pitch equivalent of referring to non-existent VAR – which is causing the problems. The excuses he’s finding, from the stadiums to the injuries to the decisions, will seep into the minds of his players. It’s not down to them, it’s down to bad luck; something intangible that they can’t control. Like the stadium situation, it’s time to own the problem.