George Lawrence’s Summer Shorts – The Bayo Tapestry

George Lawrence’s Shorts hasn’t wasted furlough; eschewing the opportunity to learn conversational Farsi or master jazz oboe we’ve joined Amateur Epidemiologists On Twitter. We’re a group of enthusiasts pooling years of experience fixing drains and answering customer service queries to misinterpret statistics to confirm our preconceived prejudices. We treat our virology data like our art – we don’t know much about it, but we know what we like. Stay home > Make Memes > Save the NHS. 

But that was then, this is now; GLS is pulling on its summer shorts, resting its gut over the elasticated waste and bringing you the news from the Oxford United universe.  

Monday 13 July 2020

Oxford’s mammoth season ended in ultimate disappointment as they fell to a 2-1 defeat against Wycombe Akinfenwanderers in the League 1 Play-Off Final. The chairboys felt right at home in the empty Wembley Stadium going ahead when Anthony AkinStewa(rt) headed in after eight minutes. We equalised through Jedward orphan Mark Sykes with a goal Ade Akinfenwa described as ‘Akinfenwa-like’. The winner came from a spot kick scored by Akinfenwanderers Akindefenda, Joe Jacobson.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

It was the morning after the night before and time to reflect on what might have been or might will be again. With the financial realities of the impending financial catastrophe coming into sharp focus we need our friends more than ever. Perhaps former Oxford United director Ghislaine Maxwell can help, she seems like a nice person with friends in high places. Once a yellow, always a yellow, eh Gizzy?

The oily bird catches the worm, and news is that Bristol City’s biggest and oiliest bird, Mark Ashton, could be set to roll out the big guns when he unveils his new manager. MApp has been linked with a move into the Championship

Wednesday 15 July 2020

We go again, as they say. Jedward orphan Mark Sykes may go again to Stoke to join the former Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill. Meanwhile £5m defender sulky teenager Rob Dickie could go again to Nottingham Forest who have joined Derby County and Leeds United in the race to sign him for £3m. Expect the fee to be around £750,000.  

Thursday 16 July 2020

Come on Monday, Happy Days!
Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days!
Thursday, Friday, Happy Days!
The weekend comes, my cycle hums,
Ready to race to yooooou.

Wait, that’s not right, what happened to Tsun Dai? Well, he’s moved to Shenzhen in China after a year at Wolves.

Friday 17 July 2020

Straight out of a two-year-old’s hide and seek playbook – if I close my eyes and can’t see them, they can’t see me – Boris Johnson is to ignore all the risks and re-open football stadiums in October. We know that when the Kassam is full it’s like a cauldron, though not often full of viral spores. Some protective measures will have to be in place to protect the most infirm; or South Stand Upper as it’s known, but what the heck, we’re going back, spread the word, let’s make this thing go viral.

Saturday 18 July 2020

Can Oxford bounce back from their play-off disappointment? KRob’s given his verdict and it’s unequivocally a yes, or no, or, and we cannot be clearer about this; maybe. You see, KRob is having one of his periodic back me or sack me (but, obviously don’t sack me, I didn’t mean it literally) moments. He’s pleading to the Oxford board to build on the successes of last season. “I owed Oxford United for two reasons” said KRob “Giving me the opportunity to come home to my family every night and for sticking with me in the bad times.” That’s us; the big selling point of Oxford United is that it’s in Oxford. 

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Wycombe Wanderers 2

We are a speck living on a grain of sand for the blink of an eye. A global pandemic infecting millions barely registers as an event in human history – half-a-million have died from coronavirus – a generation defining moment – one person for every 116 that died in World War 2. We are inconsequential, yet we strive for purpose. 

Our over-developed brains are so big we’re born prematurely to fit through our mother’s pelvis. They give us the capability to invent medicines and vaccines meaning our lives need purpose for longer. Some turn to god or their job or suicide, if they don’t see the point, some turn to the community that coalesces around their football club; hooking on and becoming part of its story.

Beginning, middle, end; that’s how it’s supposed to work. But really it’s messy and unending, rambling and contradictory. It disappoints often and thrills occasionally. 

This season has been the messiest; a story about stability spiralled into a sprawling adventure; West Ham, Lincoln, Manchester City, Fosu, Baptiste, Newcastle, Shrewsbury and then, nothing. Then arguments, finger pointing, resolution, re-write, re-start and conclusion. 

It’s fitting that a story so devoid of structure might end with a mangled mess in a hauntingly quiet cavern. You can turn an office into a bar or a house into a shop, but a football stadium can only be a football stadium. Empty Wembley is just empty Wembley; no greater reminder of the gaping void this season has become.

Our experiences are instead piped through the TV; Sky’s subscription model needs predictable, crowd pleasing, linear stories about heroes and villains, where the heroes win every time.

From the outset, it was clear we weren’t the story of the play-off final; the plucky no-hopers of Wycombe and their unlikely ascent to the Championship was the chosen narrative. Like a straight-to-video family movie about a high school baseball team full of fat kids and outcasts led by a failed wannabe rock star in red cowboy boots. 

The script was pedestrian, the acting formulaic, the actors played their parts devoid of chemistry; like water and oil, two styles that didn’t mix. We moved the ball comfortably, they sat and waited.

After eight minutes of shadow boxing, the first engagement; a Wycombe corner. Everyone knew the plan, a deep cross to the back post. Eastwood flapped, beaten by the prospect as much as the delivery. Stewart attacked at the back post and in it flew. 1-0.

That’s Wycombe, sickeningly efficient. Sky offered spurious football metrics including ‘width per passing sequence’ – an unfathomable measure made worse by its expression as a percentage. In every carefully selected category, we were ranked best in the division, they were the worst. The tale of the tape showed that they would fail, unless the divine hand of the footballing gods smiled on the misfits from the valley of chairs. Oh, the romance.

After the goal, the game snapped back to its original pattern, we had the ball, they held their shape; the spectacle defaulted to two tactical units trying to outfoxing each other. We passed and prodded, pulling Wycombe out of shape, it worked, for a bit; there was a moment for Sam Long, then one for Marcus Browne. 

By half-time, I was fairly comfortable that we were still in it. We were never going to win the game inside the opening 20 minutes and we were doing the right things to fashion a genuine chance or two. We just needed to find the angle. All season we’d been searching for it; James Henry threading a ball through a crowd of players, Shandon Baptiste raking a cross-field pass, Marcus Browne surging menacingly down the flank. Could anyone find the angle nobody else could see and make the breakthrough?

In the end it came from Mark Sykes, who’d been enjoying space down the flank throughout, his shanked his cross inadvertently finding a trajectory up, over and beyond their ‘keeper and into the net. For Sky, the disappointment was palpable, the gutsy no hopers were going to stay gutsy no hopers; the failed fat kids weren’t going to win the trophy and kiss the girls after all.

Moments later James Henry did what he does; suddenly he found himself in an acre of space inside the box with just the keeper to beat, but rather than shooting he threaded a ball across the goal. Why didn’t he shoot? Maybe because a weighted crossfield ball to Matt Taylor had become a tried and tested way to goal; it worked at Ipswich, Walsall, Portsmouth and against Accrington, why wouldn’t it work now? Only this time, Stewart – an absolute giant throughout – toed it wide. Minutes later, Rob Dickie’s header went close; we were pressing, it was coming. 

And then the grim inevitability; a failed penalty claim in our box seemed to cause a lapse in concentration, the ball was lashed forward and looked like it had gone out of play, Marcus Browne claimed the throw, the ref waved to play on. A long ball forward dropped over Elliott Moore and into a space filled by the powerful Fred Onyedinma; Simon Eastwood paused, then decided to come, the striker’s toe touched the ball, the clash was unavoidable. It was clumsy, messy and fatal.

The penalty dispatched, we succumbed to our fate, the fight ebbed away, the endless months of battle finally broke our spirit. Wycombe had won, Sky had won, the joy we forced ourselves to believe was there, had gone. 

And at that, we evaporated from the scene, our purpose was spent. The slick footballing aristocrats beaten by the plucky misfits. The narrative swept through like a tidal wave. No moment to reflect on Rob Dickie’s last game? Cameron Brannagan? Matty Taylor? Marcus Browne? No chance to say goodbye. No opportunity to applaud Karl Robinson’s dedication, his endless enthusiasm, his boundless energy to reach deep into the soul of the club, extract its essence and channel it through his team. In the year we lost John Shuker, Womble and Jim Smith, the most fitting tribute to them all had fallen just short. 

TV were keen to remind us that Wycombe only had nine players at the start of the season; even Gareth Ainsworth tried to explain that while true, the intervention of a new owner in June had given him the funds to rebuild. These were not the outcasts and fat kids after all, they couldn’t be, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, it does them a disservice. The interviewer pleaded with Ainsworth to succumb to his idea that Wycombe were the new ‘Crazy Gang’. Ainsworth resisted, perhaps Wimbledon’s abusive bullying culture in the 1980s is not a look he’s going for. 

The game trended briefly on Twitter; “Wycombe promoted to the Championship for the first time” ran the headline alongside the keywords “Wycombe” and “Akinfenwa”. The cartoonish Wycombe substitute came on to amble around ineffectively for half-an-hour before shoehorning himself into the centre of the celebrations. The man who ripped the ball from the hands of his teammate in the 2016 play-off final for Wimbledon to score a decisive last minute penalty was, again, keen to make his team’s success all about him. What a character.

Some call Wycombe ‘anti-football’, which implies its cheating to play the way they do, in reality it’s like drinking a kale and blueberry smoothie; you have to admire the efficiency even if you can’t stand the taste. Their achievements are to be applauded, but a a fairy tale it’s not. The resolution of the season has left a wasteland of acrimony from Peterborough to Tranmere, and broader financial ruin for many other clubs. Wycombe will be giddy on their success, but are ill-equipped for the Championship. One of their players said they would enjoy every moment of it; but the novelty of losing 20-30 games a season will wear thin eventually. If they’re lucky, they’ll do a Burton and bounce back to a less elevated normality, but they could do a Yeovil and collapse completely.

And deep down, there is some solace in a deeper relief that we didn’t make it, at least not this way, I wasn’t convinced we were ready to be promoted anyway; a year in the Championship would have been exciting on one level, demoralising on another. I was stuck square between those stools.

I would have taken it; it’s disingenuous to say otherwise, but there will always be an asterisk against any team’s achievements this year. It’s a relief that it’s ended. Those fragments of memories are now just that; there is no denouement, just a series of messy strands, unfinished tales, frustrating near misses and a vaguely tragic end. But the real stories don’t have happy endings and convenient conclusions. They bind you more closely together and urge you to try it again, it doesn’t feel like it now, but it maybe the better way. 

Lockdown wrap: Is it time to accept the Wycombe rivalry?

The Bucks Free Press, the local newspaper covering Wycombe ran an article this week documenting ‘The Wycombe/Oxford Derby’. I mean, TL:DR, obviously because, well, it’s not a derby, is it? Or, is it?

It’s a question that’s been picking away at me for some time; when does a derby become a derby? And, are we kidding ourselves? Tomorrow we play the biggest game in a generation against a local team for a prize neither could have dreamed of. It’s big, of course, but surely, it’s bigger because of who we’re playing.

Let’s get the basics out of the way; locality. According to Google, the distance from Kassam Stadium to Adams Park is 28.5 miles, from the Kassam to the County Ground? 33.4. It’s a fixture that is more ‘local’ than Swindon. Awkward. For completeness, Reading is 25.5 miles away.

But there’s much more to it than that, isn’t there? There’s the emotional response, the history. Nothing will replace Swindon as a rivalry for visceral pleasure. Once upon a time that was a near on annual fixture, but we’ve only played them four times in the league over the last nineteen years and Reading not at all. While that has helped grow the fierceness of the rivalry with those down the A420, with Reading it’s somewhat ebbed away. In the same period, we’ve played Wycombe 18 times. 

On a purely practical level, in order to find that regular endorphin hit of facing your deadliest foes, accepting Wycombe into the pantheon of ‘rivals’ seems logical. We always sell out the away end, meaning the atmosphere and the sweetness of the win is always good. But logical and practical isn’t enough, in fact, they’re truly the most incorrect metrics available.

A rivalry seems to intensify when you’ve forgotten what you’re arguing about. A friend of mine has started a new job and found two people in his team are engaged in a near 30-year war of attrition, about what, he can’t figure out. Certainly, it’s hard to pinpoint why Swindon and Oxford are rivals; there are few obvious class, religious or ethnic divisions between the two towns. We hate each other because we do, and we seem to like it like that.

I’ve only missed one Oxford v Wycombe league game since our first professional encounter in 1994. It’s harder to stir an emotional response when you can remember many of the details about your disputes. But it’s been 26 years, and for an increasing number of people, those early games were from a grainy, long lost era. As the details of the battles fade, the myths and legends appear. Maybe the fact every game can be found on YouTube leaves few gaps into which the mythology can seep.

One of the reasons few will accept the idea is that they perceive it would degrade us to take it on. Wycombe are ‘tin pot’ and have only been in the League since 1993, and our tenancy goes back much further. Except, it doesn’t does it? We’ve only been in the league since 2010, with our first stint going back to 1963. What we’ve both done is triumphed over adversity, grown from a low base. 

And that seems to be the nub of it; we seem unwilling to accept that Oxford and Wycombe’s paths have become increasingly entwined. This is another argument for accepting the rivalry; it heightens some of the great moments of our most recent history – 2016 promotion, Stuart Massey hanging off the crossbar in 1996, Nicky Rowe’s howitzer in 2014, Kemar Roofe’s awakening in 2016, Tom Craddock’s thirty yarder in 2012, Akinfenwa being sent off in 2019. Even some of the grimmer moments – the FA Cup in 2006, Matt Elliot being sent off in 1994, Hubert Busby Junior in 2000 have a certain je ne sais quoi. 

In truth, the fixture has been good to us, which may be to its detriment as a derby, perhaps there’s got to be a dose of misery. 

There’s also the fact that Wycombe are a good club; Adams Park has a quality not dissimilar to The Manor, they seem well run, and whilst there’s much to mock, Gareth Ainsworth has gone a great job getting them to where they are. After our last game at Adams Park, I walked back to the car chatting with a couple of Wycombe fans about how good the game had been, they were asking whether Cameron Brannagan was OK having been stretchered off. We all agreed it had been a splendid day out and a fair result. None of us were tear gassed. Swindon is a notoriously grim town, it’s been dogged with financial corruption and even had an openly fascist manager; as bad guys go, they’re world class. But, actually, is there anything wrong with having a rival that you actually quite like. If you think about Liverpool and Everton and their combined response to Hillsborough, it’s a rivalry enhanced by its shared sense of camaraderie.

The Oxford v Wycombe fixture is frequently entertaining and often meaningful, no more so than tomorrow, so is accepting the rivalry, and accepting them as equals such a bad thing? Is being ‘like Wycombe’ a team that has got to the brink of the Championship without financial doping or corruption such an awful label? It’s not the same kind of derby as the more traditional ones, but as tomorrow will show, it’s two clubs achieving something pretty phenomenal. Our histories entwined is perhaps something to be more proud of than we might like to accept.I’m not asking you to conjure up a visceral hatred on the level of Swindon. I’m asking that you might want to accept the possibility into your life. Could Wembley be the tipping point? You never know, it might make tomorrow even sweeter.

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.

George Lawrences Shorts: MApp reading

Saturday 21 December 2019

Divorced dad at a PTA Disco Gareth Ainsworth hasn’t been this disappointed since he failed to seduce Cabbage Karen, the school’s dinner lady, last Christmas. He brought his table topping Wycombe team to the Kassam and like that fateful night, left with his tail between his legs after a 1-0 defeat. The goal came from James Henry, but the game pivoted when The Mr T of the Chilterns, Ade Akinfenwa, was sent off for throwing John Mousinho over the North Stand.

Sunday 22 December 2019

It’s Christmas, which means family, friends and avoiding creepy Uncle Alan and his wandering hands. So if you want to pretend to be engrossed in something, The Roker Report remembers Sunderland’s 1975 win over Oxford. I mean, don’t we all?

Monday 23 December 2019

MApp has been reflecting on his time with Oxford. The three years of promotions, giant killings and derby wins has really brought a smile to his face. For MApp this requires a complex mechanical contraption attached to a winch.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

When we say MApp’s back, we mean it; it may be Christmas, but for the new Lincoln manager it’s business as usual as he prepares to face his old club on Boxing Day. Obviously it’s still a special time; following a turkey protein shake on the big day he’ll be dusting off the novelty festive dumbbells readying himself for the game. 

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? KRob gave the squad the day off on Christmas Day knowing that there was a box of Celebrations and a DVD of Skyfall with his name on at home. Depressed sixth former Rob Dickie got a chemistry set, but told the lads he got a Sam Fox calendar, Jose’s son John Mousinho got socks and the Top Gear Annual, Jamie Mackie broke his record for stuffing sausage meat stuffing balls up his nose. 

Thursday 26 December 2019

I don’t know if we mentioned it; Mr Big Guns was back in town on Thursday as MApp brought his Lincoln team to the Kassam. Ecclesiastical genius Shandon The Baptiste scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. KRob felt the pressure throughout the game; holding your gut in with MApp rippling three feet away really takes it out of you.

Friday 27 December 2019

No football tomorrow, but the team is preparing to meet The Crazy Gang of Wimbledon on Sunday. With the busy Christmas period, KRob is planning to rest a few players. Jamie Mackie will return to face elbowing duties up front while a number of the midfield are expected to be rested by standing in the middle of the pitch watching the ball sail over their heads for ninety minutes.

Match wrap: Oxford United 1 Wycombe Wanderers 0

“We’ve sold out our allocation” said a Wycombe supporting work colleague last week. Beyond work stuff, Oxford and Wycombe is the only axis on which we talk. I asked what the secret was of their success this season – he said, quite frankly, he had no idea.

I was none the wiser after our win on Saturday. Among the favourites to go down, they’re still seven points clear at the top. But, they haven’t unearthed some Premier League loanee who is banging in the goals, and it’s not like they’ve had a big cash injection.

Certainly their defence has been key – the best in the division, while upfront they’re only the joint seventh top scorers; equal with Accrington in 17th. Their long-ball, anti-football reputation is slightly unfair but they reminded me of Ian Atkins’ time at Oxford. Atkins was also capable of taking teams on long unbeaten runs, but he was always found out eventually.

So, what we were up against was a rigid unit. It reminded me of the FA Cup tie against Walsall; from a pure football perspective, it was obvious who was better. The question was whether we could find an angle they hadn’t covered to make the breakthrough.

The key to the goal, and therefore the game, was Shandon Baptiste’s spectacular cross field pass to Tariqe Fosu. There was still much to do before James Henry forced it home, but Baptiste found the magic angle that changed the dynamic and unpicked the lock.

Through the crowd’s roar, you could hear Wycombe’s fans singing about being top of the league, as they did throughout; it’s almost as if they’ve got to convince themselves of the fact. Amidst all the noise, there’s an insecurity, imposter syndrome, if you like.

Ade Akinfenwa’s sending off three minutes later was critical; he’s as big a curiosity as his team. It’s not just his self-styled strongest player in the world, he’s thirty-seven and in previous seasons only really seen coming off the bench. Now he’s starting regularly.

Rob Dickie had him under control before the incident, which may have been why he was chuntering in that, ‘pity the fool’ Mr T way he does, immediately after Gorrin’s tackle which caused the fuss. John Mousinho arrived as peacemaker, though I’m against the daft rules about what constitutes violent conduct nowadays, as soon as he raised his hands, there was only one outcome. It’s not exactly playing nice, but it was another new angle that undid them – the dark arts is in our vocabulary this year.

There were moments during the rest of the game which reminded me of Manchester City when they played us last year. We dominated possession edging forward with each pass, backing Wycombe into their box. It was never a foregone conclusion, but when you consider the characteristics of the teams that have got promoted in previous years; we looked more closely matched to those teams than the league leaders.

The mystery of Wycombe’s success seems to be their dedication to a disciplined, rigid system. As their fans sing, they’re top of the league and they might be able to keep it up. But, take Akinfenwa out of the equation, and their striker looked lost. If you neutralise that threat, they look impotent – set up more to avoid relegation than to get promoted.

With Ipswich running out of steam like Sunderland did last year, it looks to me that as we reach the mid-point of the season, there are two teams with the full tool kit to get promoted this season; one is Peterborough, the other is us.