Friday, 4 July 2014

Eales Up Inside Ya!

Eales Up Inside Ya!
or: "Elements of the past and the future combining to make something not quite as good as either".

So - initial thoughts today: Obviously disappointment that the apparent "fans' choice" of Charlie Methven and The Donald Family was not a part of the big news. But not really knowing how far they got in discussions, nor whether they were simply too late after the Eales deal had already been struck, it's difficult for me to comment too much on their plans. Especially as they are now pretty much in the shredder in Ian Lenagan's office.

Courier delivering the Methven bid takes IL by surprise.
Let's just leave it at the fact that Charlie Methven is most definitely first and foremost an enormous fan of the club (I've seen him up there in his club tie, tweed jacket, suede trousers and everything else), and I'm 100% sure that any investment proposition he put forward would have put the interests of the club first, regardless of whether it was the right choice. I'm not privy to enough of the goings-on to know on that front. But on intentions - absolutely it would have been.

Now, onto the Eales deal.



"Elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either"

For whatever reason IL chose to go ahead with the Eales deal over doing anything else (including just carrying on as you were), he is clearly just looking to get some of his investment back.

Which, despite what he's continually said since he became 'executive' chairman up until today, means the club owning a stadium. He obviously now realises (admits?) he isn't going to ever see a return on his money without adding property to his investment.


So Eales comes on board with a bit of extra cash and clout, and both of the major shareholders will now be hoping that one of the following two things happens:


1) They buy the Kassam Stadium from Uncle Firoz, having driven down the price with the now realistic threat of a move to Water Eaton. Kassam is clearly spooked by this prospect because otherwise he wouldn't have been on Radio Oxford yesterday, spinning a yarn about how he'd only ever sell to those with the best intentions for OUFC.


or


2) They actually get planning permission and build at Water Eaton. This means either buying out of the tenancy at the Kassam (thereby leaving King Firozymandias with an expensive car-boot sale location), or better still agree to let Kassam knock down his concrete carbuncle and build houses all over it in return for being let off any remaining leasehold payments.

Water Eaton: The New Manor?
Eitherway, they aren't doing either of the above for the sole good of Oxford United. Lenagan wants some of his money back (and I don't mind that so much, considering what he's put in), and Eales wants to make money from an investment. 

Planning permission for housing already exists at the Kassam Stadium, and at Water Eaton the possibilities for investment are currently endless - a new train station one hour from Marylebone and 10 minutes from centre of Oxford by train? I'm sure building a shitty 7,000-seater League Two stadium nearby would be peanuts compared to the potential housing and retail sites that could come along with it. And would the council block such a bright new future for the community's beloved football club? Where have we seen this sort of emotional blackmail before….??


And I'm reasonably sure of one thing: this is a takeover in all but name. Ian Lenagan may declare his family is not selling up or moving on, but the exit of Simon and Adrian from any involvement in the club and the reduction of Ian's portfolio to purely "Stadium Development" is a clear signal to me. 


Eales will almost certainly buy the remaining 40-odd % Woodstock Partners Ltd shares once the stadium development side of things is complete. Lenagan wants his money back - Eales isn't likely to give him the return he wants until he's getting a realistic asset against it.


I must stress that just because I've only been negative here, doesn't mean I don't think some good could come from this.  


As someone on the Yellows Forum pointed out to me tonight: would I be upset if Championship football came alongside a tidy profit for a new investor and a way out for the man who bankrolled us for eight years without losing his money? 


Of course not! And let's just hope that will happen and real investment in the PLAYING SQUAD and FOOTBALL MANAGEMENT is prioritised over building an attractive property portfolio. 


Reality check though: Let's not pretend today is not firstly an investment opportunity for the new guys coming in and a way for Lenagan to get some money back out. 


The press conference today was the warning bell for me. It said next to nothing about the playing side of things, but had a strong emphasis on the planning and stadium acquisition. 


I mean, for Christ's sake, the news about our current manager being sacked was according to Jerome Sale about 15 mins into the press conference! I can't say for sure as unusually for a football club press conference, the local press seemed not to be allowed to broadcast it live, and instead of hearing the most important bit of news on the ownership structure of my football club in a decade, I had to endure a bit of Barry White crooning and some hippy talk about this weekend's fucking Cowley Road carnival from BBC Radio Oxford.


As a mate texted me tonight: the press conference was for Kassam and the County Council's benefit, not for the supporters. The fact that we weren't even allowed to hear it first-hand pretty much tells us all we need to know about that.

"Hey Hudspeth! Hey Kassam! We mean business. Come to the table or the football club gets it!"
DO NOT forget what happened when Kassam bought the club. He initially invested and "saved" us as well. He bought OUFC for £1 and was able to wipe 90% of the debts with a clever CVA. He then sold the Manor Ground to his other company for £6m and sold it again for £12m. Ker-ching to him, not OUFC. Overall, Oxford United hasn't cost Firoz Kassam a fucking penny of his own money in the end. He has raked it all back with interest.

Kassam used OUFC as a community asset to essentially emotionally blackmail the council into getting a new stadium built. It worked. We got a new shitty concrete stadium and non-league football. He got a few more millions in his bank and offloaded the annoying whiny Oxford fans to a conman with a tan and no socks backed by his millionaire mate who was basically swizzled into a ridiculous rental agreement and a bunch of shit journeymen players. 

"I think the Journey has come to an end, Mr Kassam…"
And Kassam is STILL making eye-watering amounts of money from OUFC in rent, as well as other profits from the stadium, Ozone complex and the Holiday Inn, as every year the current owner of OUFC throws another £1m in to keep the asset-less club afloat.

What is to stop the current Eales/Lenagan situation not going the same way?


I hope I'm wrong. But let's not be blind to the lessons of what happened before, and take everything that is promised with a massive pinch of salt.



Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A New Adventure...

The deadline for me to renew my season ticket at Oxford United at a reasonable rate passed last week.

...and I didn't get one.

After 20 years of loyal service, I've decided to take a year out from being a ST holder. Not that I won't still go along  - I just won't be tied into it every other weekend of the football season.
No longer my weekly home
In the spare time freed up, I'm going to try and gain membership of the 92 Club.

For those who aren't aware, membership of 'The 92 Club' means you have watched a game at every one of the 92 Premiership & Football League grounds in England & Wales. Have a look here.

But what on earth you are doing reading this if you didn't know that, I don't know.

I've already done 65 of them (Although this is a contentious statement - see below!), so have 27 left to do. That'll still be a challenge in one season - but it's not like I'm going to be doing something mental like all 92 in 9 months. I'm not crazy.

I will try and blog about my experience at each of those 27 grounds and their environs on my new blog www.92club.blogspot.co.uk.

If I can manage to be organised, I will also try and get in contact with fans of each team I'm visiting before the game, hopefully meet up on the day and try and find something unique about each town. Hopefully.

I also have a bonkers idea that I could try and join a few other groups of OUFC fans of various shapes and sizes on OUFC matches I do attend, and they can show me their matchday experience in an attempt to convince me to give up the 92 quest and renew my regular attendance at Grenoble Road. Get in contact if you fancy being an OUFC chaperone to a disillusioned fan for the day!

The idea to do this has come about for four main reasons:

1. Becoming disenchanted with the match-day experience at Oxford United home games in a mostly soulless 3-sided stadium. I still love the club, but I can't get motivated anymore to commit to going to The Kassam Stadium every other week. Hopefully a year of distancing myself a little may re-invigorate my passion.

2. Another season in League 2 for Oxford means only 1 new ground to visit next season. That's boring.

3. Greg Dyke's RIDICULOUS suggestion of a new "League 3" of Premiership 'B' teams that if implemented will mean if I don't tick off the 92 soon it may become a redundant endeavour. And maybe I can try and tap into what it is that makes the Football League tick, and why shitting all over a century old institution and the less glamorous clubs that are its heartbeat is a BAD IDEA.

4. I want a project to discipline myself to get back to blogging.

This might be an epic failure of course. Nobody may want to talk to me. Or I may not be able to afford it (there are a fair number of Premiership/Championship clubs on the list with their grossly inflated matchday prices). Or I may just not be able to find anything interesting to say. But I'll give it a go, and you don't have to read it of course if it's shit.

And yeah, I do reserve the right to give up and get a season ticket if convinced otherwise!

Tune back into www.92club.blogspot.co.uk over the summer for my initial plans, or contact me at FantasticMrOx@mail.com if you want to give me some ideas or book yourself in for taking me on your matchday experience next season!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

He'll Never Play for Swindon Town

He Scored Two at The County Ground,
James Constable, Oxford's Number 9.

What a very odd, melancholy couple of months it really has been.

The uninspiring, and yet explosively diarrhoea-esque start to the Gary Waddock era, shoe-horned in-between the departure of the only manager to achieve a promotion since the days of Denis Smith's Jimmy hat and the greatest servant the club has had on the pitch this century.

James Constable's position in the pantheon of Oxford United folklore was secured two years ago, not even for his two goals at the County Ground, but for his unwillingness to take a golden pay check at the wrong end of the A420. In the face of pressure from the hierarchy at OUFC and his manager - so the rumours would have us believe.

This man didn't want to goose-step around the magic roundabout. He wanted to stay at Oxford United. And given his quite public breakdown during his BBC Radio Oxford interview this evening, that was because he simply loved the club and its fans.

And hey, didn't we all love him too? Sure he wasn't perfect. His first touch at times was lamentable, he sometimes seemed to need 3-4 good chances a game to score one, he needed the right player alongside him to hold the ball up… we all know the clich├ęs, trotted out endlessly by all the football tacticians in the stands each game.

But he was that rare thing - a player that 99% of the crowd (there's always a few contrarians, right?) adored, and for one main reason; his work-rate. He never gave up on any lost ball, ran right up to the final whistle and wore his heart on his sleeve. Oh, and he was also top scorer most seasons. That helped too.

And whatever any official records say, he is also the club's all-time leading goal-scorer in competitive matches, with 109 goals. I'm not accepting the ridiculous wiping of his hat-trick against Chester, purely because 3 months later they folded and their records were expunged for that season. Fair enough, his goals don't count in comparison to that season's other goal-scorers, just as the points we gained didn't count. But why don't the goals count as far as OUFC records are concerned? James Constable scored a hat trick in what at the time was a competitive fixture. Re-instate those fucking goals, statisticians - I demand it.

So he probably would have gone down as an Oxford legend in most people's eyes anyway, regardless of the approach from Il Duce del Wiltshire and his flat rejection thereof. That was just the icing on the cake, really.

So whatever happened to him after that, he was always going to get an overwhelming outpouring of love from the majority of Oxford United fans when he did eventually move on.

And what grates today is not whether or not it was the right decision to allow him to go and not fight to keep him here, nor even whether he deserved a better offer than he got. It's the fact that it seems to have been handled so abjectly by the club, at the end of a season plagued by a succession of PR disasters which basically seem to have emanated from a lack of communication, and perhaps (although this is purely conjecture on my part) a lack of action from the top.

For James Constable's six-years at the club to have ended with him being interviewed in tears today on the radio is just such a sad, sad way for his time with us to end.

In fairness, I don't know what more the club could have done today though. It isn't really the done thing to start an official mourning period purely because a beloved player has moved on, and the "we wish him well" schtick that came from the official site is probably as much as can have been expected.

But what fantastically disastrous timing to have the season ticket renewal forms hit people's mats on the same day the club's record top-scorer departs the club in a flood of tears.

I drove home today listening to Constable choking back the emotion as Ross Heaton prodded his open sores in search of the emotional soundbite we all sub-consciously wanted to hear. When it inevitably came from a man who clearly loved the ruddy shit out of Oxford United, I'm not ashamed to say I had to pull over the car as I was in floods of tears myself. Here was a man who was forced to leave the club to secure a future for his family, but who had wanted to retire an Oxford United man. Just such a sad way for his time here to end, and the full stop on the end of a terrible waste of a season.

So to get home and find a season ticket renewal application on my door mat did strike me as woefully bad timing all round!

I've already stated that I have personally become a little disenfranchised by the club and the home match-day experience in the past few years. Hearing Beano on the radio today has made me feel slightly further away from renewing a season ticket this season, I'm sad to report. And the stupid thing is, I genuinely don't think him going is necessarily the wrong thing for the club in the long run.

But it does feel like an era that OUFC was slowly transitioning out of has come to a very definite close now. The era of Kelvin Thomas' magnificently slick PR machine, backed by an extremely neglected engine that apparently drank money. But this was also the era of Wilder, of Wembley, of promotion from the Conference and widespread optimism. The era of James Constable - Oxford's Number 9.

Where Oxford United go from here in the new Waddock and Lenagan era is anyone's guess. I hope I can get over my current apathy to come along for the ride.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

DISENFRANCHISED

Sunday, 27th April 2014.
DISENFRANCHISED
OUFC 1 Accrington Stanley 2 - The One that Broke The Ox's Back?

I haven't posted anything on this OUFC blog in 2 and a half years.

That's not because I haven't cared about my beloved Oxford United in all that time. It's because in December 2011 I started a new job which didn't have a 2 hour commute everyday, which was when I wrote most of my articles. So that gets that out of the way. Don't think I've been apathetic for the past 3 years, despite what you read below. I've just not found the time to update a blog regularly.

Yesterday, I left the ground at about 4.10pm, just after Accrington scored their second goal. In my head at that moment, as the jovial steward unbolted the metal gate underneath the East Stand, I had probably walked past those cold, grey-brown breezeblocks for the final time as a season ticket holder.

Below is something I posted on Yellows Forum and Facebook this morning. Despite a little tidying up it is still raw, but it accurately sums up my state of mind today. I hope - deep down - I hope it changes over the summer. But I can't see what it'll need to do so at the moment.

A Rough Reasoning for Not Renewing a Season Ticket, The Morning After.
""For me, it's less about the football itself than the general match day experience these days. Some of which the club can't do anything about - namely the fact that a lot of the regular lads I used to enjoy a pre-game and post-match drink with either don't go at all anymore, go irregularly, or go but take their kids these days so basically just turn up for the match.

For me, half the reason for going was the social side and that seems to have died over the past year. I had to call upon an emergency drinking buddy yesterday and force him to come to the game with me, after spending 2 hours drinking on my own in town- and that's the last home game of the season for god's sake!!!

But also, I'm just feeling totally alienated by the club, and opinions of what seems to be a vocal majority of other fans. 


I left when Accy went 2-0 up yesterday, not because I was pissed off at what was happening on the pitch (which I was, of course), but because my mate (a former ST holder himself and once very actively involved with organising a fan supporter group and liaising with the club) had has enough of the negative chants from the back of the East Stand. And I agreed with him. I'd rather spend an hour in the pub with him than an hour watching our season collapse as the east Stand booed and chanted against the club.

It seemed to me like people couldn't wait to start getting on the players/club's back and almost delighted in dishing out the abuse. And that's been the same all season, and for a number of years to be honest. For all the talk about us having such great fans, I see less and less evidence of it in the stands. Bunch of moaning cunts most of the time just waiting for a player to make a mistake so they can scream at him, if you ask me!


So I left early cos I didn't want to associate myself with booing and barracking players when game still in progress. Never understood that sort of shit to be honest. Same reason I decided weeks ago to not go to Northampton next week- because of the abuse Wilder will, unfairly IMHO, get from the same people that helped hound him out of the club. A viewpoint I always thought amazingly short-sighted and results since seem to have vindicated. But that's another argument and not the point I'm trying to make.

But also, I just feel a massive disconnect with the club these days. I sit there week after week in a soulless blue-seated, grey stadium, un-entertained and un-connected to the club that has been my entire life for over 20 years now.

And before anyone just thinks I'm a fickle, half-hearted fan that the club probably won't miss if I don't come up again, you may be right.


But I've had a season ticket every season but 1 (living in NZ for a year) since the 1994-95 season. And I've never missed more than a handful of home games in all that time (but for that 1 year, obviously). I've also always done at Least 15-20 away games every season in that time, but for the past 2 seasons when I've started to be more selective (money, and wanting to spend some time with family and non-football friends, mostly).

There is not a single ground that Oxford United have played a competitive 1st team game on in over a decade now that I have not been to to cheer them on at. Even the FA Trophy dives like AFC Sudbury and Tonbridge, or the fabled Conference black spots like Droylsden and Farsley Celtic!



In my home I've got the original "Welcome to the Manor" sign from atop the home dug-out, plus the "London Road Stand" sign that hung above the stairs in the right side entrance to the stand. I've also got the rusting crash-barrier that I leant against all those times back in my formative years. I absolutely adore what this club is (or should I say was?).

I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone, I know there are far more committed and die-hard fans than me, except that it's people like me that I'm sure the club will just assume will renew no matter what happens.

At the moment I'm about 80% sure I won't be renewing. And if I don't renew, I doubt I'll go to all but a handful of games. I may even cold turkey completely.

It pains me to even think that, but if I'm not entertained, not enjoying the social aspect and don't feel a part of the 'group' of fans anymore- why am I fucking going anymore? I'm sure someone will probably say "good riddance, we don't need fans like you!"


But the fact is- clubs like OUFC DO need fans like me.

I'm not sure what it'll take for me to change my mind - perhaps nothing will be able to, or perhaps it's only going to have to be a change of heart from within me to do it, regardless of external factors.

But if I'm the sort of person that is starting to think that way- I do fear for how many others must feel the same, and the impact it'll have on Oxford United Football Club."