George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts: A Chinese takeaway

Monday 8 July 2019

I will drive three-fifty miles 
And I will drive three-fifty more
Just to see my team get mullered by the Rangers 

5-0, that’s for sure.

Purple faces, a belly full of bargain lager and too many Embassy ciggies, and that was just the players after the pounding we got in the Steve Kinniburgh Invitational Shield on Sunday at Ibrox. ‘We’re not where we want to be’ explained KRob, presumably not referring specifically to Glasgow.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

The Scottish Sun, which meteorologists agree is a contradiction in terms, are reporting that a ‘fantasist stalker who loved the champagne lifestyle’ was seen at Ibrox on Saturday. In addition to KRob, loon-eyed Gers fan Jill Sharp, straight out of Loon-Eyed Central Casting, was pictured just behind the dugout with a flag referencing her so-called luxurious lifestyle. Sharp was given a restraining order after a three-year campaign terrorising another fan in 2019, but she was back looking for another victim for her affections. This probably explains why Jamie Mackie was absent having injured his back ‘doing a back heal’.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening

It’s a shame that Matthew Arnold didn’t stick around for July, when one of the great ancient Oxford traditions happens. The amateur fellows of the City try to end the careers of the dandies of United. Like May Day in Oxford, where quadriplegia from jumping off Magdalen Bridge was once considered a right of passage, the modern tradition is a more sedate affair.

Nowadays it’s less about snapping your opponent’s ankle ligaments and more about ritual humiliation. The City fellows gave it a decent shot this year going 2-0 up before the dandies regained an ounce of respect dragging it back to win 5-3.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Pre-season friendlies are where Gammon Pride happens; there was another gathering of pasty overweight men in ill advised shorts at Thame United last night for another pre-season thrill-fest. The game ended with a 2-0 win after goals from Gavin Whyte and the Aylesbury Ashley Young Rob Hall.

Chinese brand expansion pack and bottomless pun bucket Tsun Dai has signed for actual Wolves for real money. Wolves fans greeted the news with the same Sunday puns we did last year. The consensus is that Wolves’ Chinese owners are stockpiling players of Chinese origin hoping to stumble across an Oriental Beckham to propel them into the Chinese market. KRob is currently in the Dragon’s Pearl in Witney, where he’s hoping to sign a couple of £30 million rated “full-backs” from their kitchens. 

Friday 12 July 2019

‘I wish it could be football every day’, sang Roy Wood in the little known follow-up to his Christmas classic. KRob is faithfully trying to make his wish come true having arranged their fourth friendly of the week, last night’s 2-1 win over Brackley Town. The world is so sick of Oxford United friendlies, even Twitter decided to shut down for a good proportion of the game. 

Saturday 13 July 2019

In what felt like the four hundred and thirty seventh game of the week, Oxford drew 1-1 with Woking in the Harvey Bradbury derby. KRob blamed a lack of cutting edge up front, ignoring the seven and a half hours of football and 1000+ miles of travelling he’s insisted the squad do this week.

Yellows 1 Woking 0

I think we’re all agreed that it’s good to get back to winning ways after the Tamworth shock so let’s instead talk about Fozziegate.

For all Chris Wilder’s ‘ecky thump northern dourness he likes to create a drama like a drag queen with a broken heal. On the face of it, there was absolutely no reason to disrupt the best defensive unit in the league. We have been the best team by a country mile, and the defence has been the best of that team.

On the other hand, Wilder isn’t the first to take a dislike to Foster; both Jim Smith and Darren Patterson dropped him during their reign. What’s more, when there were rumours of Coventry being interested in him a few years ago, nothing came forth. In fact, as good as Foster has been, he’s consistently failed to generate any league club interest at all. Something’s not right there.

When Smith and Patterson got the hump with him, it was early in the season and it seemed that his fortnight in Magaluf had taken an extended toll. Eventually he got in his groove and proved to be one of the best and most consistent players at the club.

And it’s not as if Foster’s performances this season haven’t been first class. But, when push comes to shove, he was ultimately responsible for us drawing and eventually being knocked out by Barrow. And was one of those at fault for the equaliser against Salisbury.

In addition, one of the big problems with the 2006 collapse was the lack of a Plan B. Perhaps Wilder saw that Foster and Creighton were vulnerable when put under pressure. If that got out, the second half of the season could prove very uncomfortable. Perhaps the reconstruction of the back-four is just about changing the dynamic of the team.

What’s more, the squad does have to keep evolving, and for the first time in several years, the squad has reached a point where even the best players must be scrutinised. The likes of Rhodes and Kelly have gone; but there isn’t a name in the first team squad that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if they were let go. It’s still a big call though.

Few can deny that Mr Wilder deserves our trust. He’s paid to make decisions, and it’s his job that’s on the line if he gets them wrong. Let’s face it; if it were down to our collective wisdom, then we’d be Ebbsfleet, and that’s a fate worse than death.

Woking 0 Yellows 2

I consider myself a ‘normal fan’; a season ticket holder who doesn’t tend to go away. I have other commitments – family, friends, work, other interests – things I’d rather do. I’m not a ‘true fan’ in the way often debated on forums because that way madness lies.

For away games, I have a dilemma. I want to follow the game, but I don’t particularly like the radio – it’s too much information directed at once just one sense. Also, modern commentating style; as championed by Alan Green on Radio 5, aims to give opinions and avoid describing the game as much as possible. Jerome Sale et al are as guilty as anyone:

Jerome Sale: “… the ball goes out to the left, they’re queuing up in the middle for this one and… well you could have predicted that happening.”
Me at home: “Constable, Farrell, Murray, GET IN THERE SUNSHINE”
Nathan Cooper: “absolutely, it’s what we talked about in the car on the way up.”
Me: “What?”
JS “Yeah, just like you did at Altrincham last year”
Me: “Was it a goal?”
NC “Oh no, let’s not bring that up again.”
Me “Is that Oxford fans cheering?”
JS “You’ve lost that loving feeling, eh Nathan?”
Me: “Sod off you two, what’s bloody happening”
Cue: laughing off mic.
Me: searches teletext.

… I paraphrase. There’s always teletext, Soccer Saturday, Live Text on BBC, and the forums. More staccato but less intrusive. Yesterday, I had Soccer Saturday (er, Monday?) on, Live Text didn’t seem to be working and the TiU Forum was going through another ‘not friendly to Mac’s’ phase. The information I was receiving – admittedly none – told me we were holding our own in a particularly dull game.

When the information starvation finally forced me onto Radio Oxford, it sounded like another Hillsborough was underway. When, eventually, it turned out to be a relatively minor crowd-control issue, I eventually bored of the impromptu Conference bashing phone-in Jerome Sale was orchestrating and headed out.

I came back to find that, bizarrely, we had brushed aside Woking with uncharacteristic ease for a ‘must-win’ game. Results elsewhere seem to have gone against us; the four play-off incumbents, Cambridge, Torquay, Kidderminster, Stevenage, feel like a pretty robust quartet and hardly need sparkling four to secure their spots.

But we live in hope and move onto Burton. It would be nice to push this into the last week of the season, deny Burton the championship and finally see ourselves (temporarily) in a play-off spot. But the question is, do I watch it live on Setanta in the pub or watch it live on illegal Chinese streaming?

By the way: as if the world needed more of an information overload, if you look down the left hand bar you can now read Oxford news from Google and watch goals through DeddingtonSteve’s YouTube channel. And, although I’m still not sure I understand it – you can read Oxblogger’s little brother Oxtweeter – including ill considered in-game thoughts – through Twitter. If you follow me, I’ll follow you… whatever that means.

Yellows 0 Woking 0

Good design should mean something. Yesterday was the first time I’d seen the new shirt close up. With its blue piping and pale yellow colour, from some angles it looks like the old Milk Cup Final shirt. From the front it is largely indistinguishable from last season’s incarnation.

Which makes you think that the Carlotti designers are telling us that the glory days are well and truly behind us, whilst looking forward it all looks the same as last year.

It comes to something when a home game against pointless Woking fills you with dread. They were going to break their duck at some point; we always screw up ‘easy’ games. On reflection, a featureless 0-0 draw was a bit of a relief.

There was a peculiar atmosphere around the ground – less anger and frustration than last season, it was more muted helplessness. It’s a sign of what has been an all-round peculiar first month. The division hasn’t yet revealed its natural order with all the pre-season favourites faltering. Few of the teams currently at the top look capable of maintaining a charge. Of the better equipped, only Cambridge have held any form, but they’ve got off the field problems and it’s difficult to see them running away with the title a la Aldershot. Pre-season Burton look best suited, but even they’ve faltered, while Torquay and Stevenage have faired worse than us. Our screwy start to the season hasn’t had quite the catastrophic effect it might have otherwise had.

The other thing about the new shirt is that its material seems to be made of the same stuff the 2004-6 shirt was. We know where that shirt ultimately took us; although we’re probably not relegation material… yet.

Woking 1 Us 2

According to Andy Woodman in his autobiography, as a senior pro at Oxford he was earning £40k a year. Ross Weatherstone when he was in the dock for racially aggravated assault was apparently earning less than we get for my daughter’s child benefit.

I don’t, therefore, subscribe to the idea that footballers are overpaid, especially in the lower leagues. I also don’t believe players recognise when they’re playing for their contracts, the motivation, Darren Patterson insists, will drive his players on to the end of the season.

Players are fatalists by nature. Their contracts are short, they are constantly being told how terrible they are, they need an unstinting belief in their own abilities. Unless their careers are coming to an end, it is unlikely a player is objective enough to recognise they’re one shirked tackle from the job centre.

Phil Trainer may be an exception to this general rule. His winner yesterday, his third in three weeks, signals growing reputation as one of those Oxford anti-heroes.

Like Dave Savage and Matt Murphy, Trainer is a player with obvious limitations, but one who clearly works to overcome them. The kind of player fans hate to love but love nonetheless. Trainer’s first season has been a struggle at times, but as his fitness has improved he’s proved to be a key source of midfield goals. More important is the fact he may be the player who can rebuild the relationship between fans and players at the Kassam.

Oh, how we would kill for a player of the quality of Matt Murphy nowadays.

Oxford 0 Woking 0

Perhaps the collective mindset was orientated towards Paris, maybe it was the unseasonal autumn sunshine, maybe it was simply the fact we won last week. Whatever it was, the Kassam Stadium seemed at peace with itself before the draw with Woking. It couldn’t last, could it?

Well, you know the bloke you hear shouting with angry incoherence throughout the game? The one you eventually stare at with tired resignation thanking your lucky stars you’re not sitting next to him. Well, I’m the bloke with his head in his hands sitting next to him.

There’s a lot in the psychology of football about oppression; social, physical, even sexual. Men sitting in designated seats, watching intellectually inferior, physically superior, men playing a game they want to play. All this, whilst paying for the privilege.

Perhaps this is why the bloke next to me is so angry. He’s desperately oppressed. He, and many others in the stand, seem to have lost a sense of perspective. Now we boo the away goalkeeper, yell incandescence at the injured referee, tear strips off Jordan Rhodes for being bumped off the ball and even get apoplectic during the gaps in play.

It’s a time-honoured tradition to put pressure on the goalkeeper, but the London Road would applaud the keeper into his goal; recognising that it was just a game. The referee pulling a muscle is worth a good laugh, but its not deserving of acidic shouts of being a ‘fat faggot’.

When England won the rugby world cup, Clive Woodward introduced the concept of TCUP – Think Clearly Under Pressure. It basically means when the going get tough, the tough calm down and go back to basics. For us this means off as well as on the pitch.

In truth, there were good things; Stefan Bailey’s been schooled in ‘give-and-go’; his work rate and physicality allowed more control in midfield. The ball stayed on the floor and Phil Trainer was more involved for longer. Yes, we’re still lacking the goalscoring touch, but if there were more players willing to offer what Bailey does, then things will improve.

Boxing daze

Big crowds and big flags diverted the mind away from the fact there was a football match to win yesterday. The first half meandered into the consciousness of both the players and fans and it took at least twenty minutes to realise that a bit of application was required.

One thing the big crowd did guarantee was a much higher proportion of what is known in modern footballing parlance as the Prawn Sandwich Brigade. This is no class commentary, it’s quite simply the fact that, by definition, most people there will never have been to a Conference game. In fact, their understanding of the game may be entirely defined by slick highlight packages of Premiership football. What these people don’t normally see is that even at the highest level games are punctuated with misplaced passes, wayward shooting, and extended bouts of head tennis. The aesthetic of the beautiful game is even less likely to be displayed in the Conference, record crowd or not. Perhaps half of the crowd were there for the game, the rest were there for the fresh air and were shocked to find that for twenty quid you really don’t get what you see on the telly.

I’ve previously explored the theory that Jim Smith’s 3-5-2 (5-3-2?) formation is an opening stratagem designed to make the team appear impenetrable. This follows the Chelsea model adopted by Jose Mourinho. Smith is currently struggling the find the second phase of the approach, which is to create a team capable of overwhelming their weary opponents. Whilst we struggle to graduate from the first phase we’re finding that we’re coming up against more and more defensive units. Although isn’t it about time that time-wasting was outlawed as a legitimate defensive strategy?

Where is the problem? It’s difficult to say. Rob Duffy‘s goals have dried up, principally because the penalties have dried up. He is neither goal poacher nor battering ram so he has nothing to fall back on when form isn’t with him. Unlike, for example, Yemi, who is also struggling for goals – but that doesn’t stop him being lightening quick. Many will disagree, but a player as obvious as Marvin Robinson may be exactly what we need, he may well have bulldozed a goal from one of the many second half corners yesterday.

There is still a midfield conundrum to resolve; Jim Smith hinted at a pre-match problem; which presumably was an injury to Hargreaves, meaning the vanilla talents of John Dempster were on show and would explain the delayed substitution of Hutchinson when he pulled up about 20 minutes into the second half. I changed my vantage point to the South Stand Upper for the game, which highlighted that for all Pettefer‘s industriousness, he doesn’t offer enough control of the midfield. He could be accommodated if a true holding midfielder can be brought in, but perhaps it would be better to start with Hargreaves and Hutchinson. Defensively, at least, things continue to look steady, although there is probably a strong argument for giving Rufus Brevett a breather and bringing in Gavin Johnson, Brevitt looked a shadow of his earlier self yesterday.

What’s for sure is that, to coin an awful phrase yelled during Oxblogger’s boxing day morning kick-around, we now need to get an upward trend going.