Kassam All Star XI – Strikers part 3

Yemi Odubade and Steve Basham took us into the Conference era and were joined by the enigma that was Rob Duffy. Duffy’s extraordinary achievement was to score 20 goals in a season and still fail to impress an Oxford public starved of success.

Duffy’s goal tally was inflated by a large number of penalties. When these eventually dried up, he quickly fell from favour. His coup de gras was rolling the ball gently into the arms of the Exeter keeper when clean through and facing promotion and immortality in the face during the play-off semi-final in 2007.

Duffy’s impotence meant a number of replacements were tried to save our season. Marvin Robinson was a massive battering ram who eventually wrecked himself in a car crash. Chris Zebroski was the real deal and very nearly made the difference.

These paled into insignificance in comparison to Kristaps Grebis. Grebis was a Latvian with Champions League experience. He arrived midway through the 2006/7 season and looked utterly lost. Which pretty much describes our decision making at the time. He made just four appearances, but goes down in Oxford history as one of the all-time worst signings.

2007/8’s big summer signing was Gary Twigg. That fact alone proving how destitute we were . The myth of our largesse within the Conference remained, we signed Paul Shaw, but as soon as he realised what a mess we were in he moved to Hungary. Hungary, I tell you.

With Darren Patterson’s appointment came a flurry of loan deals including one Matt Green from Cardiff. Despite a troublesome knee, he just kept scoring. That summer it looked like he would make his move permanent. As people queued for their season tickets, and Nick Merry preened himself preparing to parade his new star, Green headed south and signed for Torquay. It was one of the greatest swindles in nothing-league football. He’d be back, though, being part of the strike force that got us to Wembley and back to the league.

Darren Patterson really knew how to sign a striker. At the start of 2008/9 he signed two loanees; Jamie Guy was one, the other James Constable.

Guy was an instant hit, storming the pre-season but was injured just before the opening game. He wasn’t the same when he returned, chugging his way to Christmas before being dispatched back to his parent club with just five goals to his name.

Constable was a slower burn, the catalyst for him coming to the fore was Chris Wilder. Sometimes Wilder’s decisions are moments of genius. An early decision was to invest his spirit and philosophy into Constable. Constable was Wilder on the pitch, someone he could trust and we could follow. He is so much more than a striker; he’s the only true icon of the Kassam Stadium era so far.

Around Constable Wilder built a powerful strike force. Perhaps it was a way of buying himself some time by announcing that Sam Deering was our best player days after we lost him to a broken leg. Fans wanted so desperately for Deering to succeed, but he, um, came up a little short.

Deering has his little part in our history; exchanging passes with Alfie Potter at Wembley before Potter slammed home the third decisive goal. Potter too is somewhat of an untouchable amongst fans and seemingly the manager.

Jamie Cook, The True Carrier Of Hope, had his moment of fame. But the classic trio was Constable, Green and Jack Midson, who will always be fondly remembered for his titanic performance at Wembley, but also The Miracle of Plainmoor.

The trio didn’t last long. More guile was needed for the league and Chris Wilder brought in his favourite ever toy; Tom Craddock from Luton and the mercurial Steve MacLean.

But throughout all of this was Constable, no Kassam Stadium XI will be complete without him. When we come to review the 20th anniversary of the Kassam Stadium; his name will be first on the teamsheet.

Ten moments that defined the Conference era

1. Matt Day’s piledriver against St Albans
Relegation was a blip. Our return to the league was simple, all we had to do was beat everyone and go up as champions by Christmas. On a barmy September night, it was St Albans’ turn to go all the way down in Oxford-town. It was an enjoyable romp as we led and they equalised. A minute later Matt Day weaved his way through their defence and, 30 yards out put his laces through the ball, slamming it past the keeper and into the net. Afterwards I heard a defeated Saints fan telling someone how great it had been. It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters.

2. A minute of madness at Wycombe
Unbeaten, we marched on Wycombe in the Cup. This was the moment when the naysayers would be silenced. At first it worked well; we matched them toe-to-toe. They scored but we equalised. For a minute we were back in the big time and we filled Adams Park with songs of victory. Whilst backslapping and telling each other stories of the bad old days, Wycombe popped down our end, scored, and put us back on the naughty step.

3. Sheer joy of Dagenham
The title had gone, but this was about bragging rights, which, in the street tough world of the Conference counted for so much more. The arrival of champions elect Dagenham was the perfect opportunity to show what marauding brawlers we’d become. We all turned up in heady expectation but despite good early pressure, we conceded early. Then Jim Smith introduced Yemi Odubade, he trotted on and ripped a hole in the time/space continuum with his fat arse. What we saw through the seam was a world where football was fun. Yemi scored one, then lobbed in another from forty yards. There were smiles and no teeth grinding. For 10 minutes it was magical.

4. Rob Duffy’s back pass against Exeter
We limped into the play-offs with the blind faith that we had destiny on our side. This was confirmed when we took a lead into the home leg of the semi-final. We weren’t playing well, but conspired to go two-up. The edifice began to crumble and we conceded twice forcing the game into extra time. Suddenly Rob Duffy broke clear and was bearing down on goal. In a moment of clarity he chose to release us all from the whole sorry façade. Rather than pop the ball in the net and send us to Wembley, he said ‘fuck it, I can’t let this go on’ and rolled the ball into the keepers’ hands.

5. Gnohere hands it to Aldershot
With Dagenham gone; the indefatigable logic was that the 2007/8 title was ours. If there was ever proof, our indifferent form through August and September confirmed that this title was going to be won with a thrilling post-Christmas sprint. If you said it enough, you believed it. Aldershot were the nerdy cousin you haven’t seen for years turning up to a family party looking like an FHM cover girl. Their fans were louder, their flags cooler. But despite this, it was OK, we were Oxford – champions elect. We took them on as equals until the 15th minute, when the big lump of a defender Arthur Gnohere inexplicably batted a cross away with his hand. And that was that. The season was over. In September.

6. Joe Burnell’s reducer versus Cambridge
We drifted into our third season, looking increasingly clueless. The season opened with away and home defeats. Following a win against Eastbourne, we drew two home games and lost another. High-flying Cambridge arrived on a warm September night with home form looking like used toilet paper. Seconds in, Joe Burnell took one for the team with a booking off a crunching tackle. This set the tone for a storming 3-1 win. We lost one more game at home all season. It took a better man than Burnell to turn this acorn into an oak, but this is where it all started.

7. Adam Chapman’s curler at Burton
By this point we were rampaging in a balls out, machete weilding banzai attack on the play-offs. One limb had been ripped off by the Conference’s disciplinary panel but we continued, maddened by the injustice and possessed by unfettered belief. The run had been thrilling, but it was all about to end, because we had to conform to the convention of letting the champions seal their title at in front of their own fans. Albion were hosting their promotion party when our gang turned up, drank all the beer, punched the arrogant jock, snogged his girlfriend, bent in a 20 yard free kick from Adam Chapman and drove off on our Harley Davison chopper.

8. Luton and the true carrier of hope
Don’t tell the morale majority, but the best games are ones that should be all-ticket, but aren’t. Luton was chaotic; people couldn’t park and the North Stand was a war zone. The crowd tipped over the 10,000 mark. The story, however, was already written; our deadliest Conference rivals were in town and our form was good. Surely this was set up for perfect failure. But Jamie Cook, the neo-Beauchamp and a time traveller from the good times, was back in the fold. Receiving the ball on the right, he feinted before guiding it into the bottom left hand corner. ‘Probably the best goal I’ve ever seen’ said the bloke next to me.

9. Injury time in parallel universes
In one paradigm, at Crawley, we look certain to forego our position at the top of the league with a defeat. In seven minutes we equalise, throw away the opportunity for victory and then reclaim it deep into injury time. In the other, at Luton, we lead and look certain to plunge a dagger into the hearts of one of our title rivals. First we throw two points away, then the third. We meet triumph and disaster, and treat the two impostors the same. It made us men, my son.

10. Potter, Deering, Potter
Potter to Deering, Deering to Potter, Potter shoots. Era over.