Sunday, October 21, 2018

The wrap - Bristol Rovers 0 Oxford United 0


I’m in Devon. It’s partly Michael Appleton’s fault. In his first terrible year, I was so bored, I started to form my exit strategy from football fan to football consumer. Before giving up my season ticket completely I decided that I’d no longer wait for the fixtures to come out to make non-footballing plans. So, in 2015 we decided to go on holiday in Devon during half term week regardless of how the fixtures fell, and have been doing it ever since.

Then we had the best season ever and I never gave up my season ticket.

As the result of a traumatic traffic based experience around Cribs Causeway one summer a few years ago which resulted in a similarly traumatic mercy stop at the lawless Gordano Services in peak season to relieve aching bladders and ease mental fatigue, we decided this year to leave early to avoid delays.

We always stop at Chieveley Services, it acts as the gateway to our holiday. I like Chieveley for this and other reasons. If I’d had the foresight to spend my life doing something fulfilling, it would have been to undertake deep anthropological studies of the nation’s service stations on Saturdays.

I love service stations on Saturdays, particularly around lunchtime. You’ll be idly choosing whether to spend your last six pounds on a Mars bar or a single packet of peanuts and you’ll see someone in a Barnsley or Newport shirt come in. Or better still Cindeford Town or Bromsgrove Rovers. Then there’ll be others, bursting for the toilet, or a coffee. They’ll have just decanted from a supporters' coach, like bees in a smoked out hive, the journey has made them soporific and so it's time to stretch the legs. It’s less intimidating than a pub, the most aggressive thing that happens is someone asks for an extra gherkin in their Big Mac.

If they’re really daring, there’ll have their eye one of the naughty top shelf magazines. The pack mentality emboldens them. They wouldn’t buy it for their own gratification, obviously, just for laughs; a trophy to take back to the coach.

Incidentally, in a world of plentiful bosoms and vaginal exposure in digital form, this cannot be the way Razzle or Men Only survive in print form. Our local village shop maintains a small selection of specialist gentlemen’s literature. How big is the market for people who are desperate enough to seek sexual stimulation from pictures of naked women, and have enough bravado and means to happily buy this stuff - often from a thickset judgemental woman in her sixties who knows nothing of professional client confidentiality - but who are also not able to access the internet? That's one venn diagram with a small intersection; which is no reference to something you'd see in Readers' Wives.

Back at the services. So, ever since I was a child, whenever I’ve seen fans from other teams I’ve followed their fortunes for the day; who they’re playing, what the score was and what that means to their league position.

It’s an underrated branch of study, we know all about football through the lens of the media, and by attending games, but we never talk about the bit in the middle. Service stations are an administrative necessity for going to football, but they act as a cultural clearing house for fans dedicated to their own petty cause. Each one, heading off on a campaign to foreign parts from which a story, of some kind, will emerge. Football is a commonwealth, but it’s only at a motorway service station do we ever meet and accept each other as equals.

So, we’re at Chieveley, but it’s a bit early for most football fans, there’s a hockey team milling around in their team kit, and a couple of people in the colours of Jersey Reds, whoever they are. I still enjoy the hubbub; the curious mixes of inter-generational groups, a woman on her own with more children than she can have reasonably conceived, a couple of such an age that you wouldn't trust them to leave their own front garden let alone drive down the M4, and another, so appallingly obese their bodies slide at a 45 degree angle from the roles of chin fat as though they've been inflated, they are not so much sitting in their chairs as being propped up against them. They are staring in opposite directions furtively as though the empty plates of full English breakfast they have evidently just inhaled are the only thing to have given away their dark secret that heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes are mere moments away.

Within this swill of people and their stories, I see a familiar light-blue top and an even more familiar yellow badge. Chieveley is only 60 miles from Bristol, so it is possible I will see the odd Oxford fan, although unlikely given that there's still nearly five hours until kick-off. My heart lightens, this must be what it's like for a panda to have a prospective mate introduced to their enclosure.

But, it's not a fan, it's Luke Garbutt, on his own, in his training kit with his washbag under his arm. He looks a little lost, and perhaps he is, he's a long way from the changing rooms at the Memorial Ground. I hope to see John Mousinho shaking the last drops of wee into a urinal in the gents, or Derek Fazackerley trying the travel cushions fashioned to look like slices of watermelon outside WH Smith, or maybe Shandon Baptiste panic buying an over-priced iPhone accessory from a small kiosk. Perhaps Jamie Mackie is outside contemplating AA membership now he's over 30 and has to think about his future. But there's nobody. He's on his own in what I assume to be a practical measure. Presumably it's more convenient for him to be picked up by the team coach than to drive down to the Kassam and back along the M4.

I wasn't bold enough to talk to him, after 'I'm an Oxford fan' we have nothing in common. And, let's face it, being an Oxford fan isn't something we have in common either. I point him out to my largely disinterested family; "I thought he was just a normal person" said my daughter afterwards. So did I, there he is ambling towards Costa, like, well, a normal person. I feel a bit guilty about whatever I might have said about him in the stands when I didn't think he was a normal person, but just a footballer. Luckily, it probably isn't much; he seems to have been OK whenever I've seen him.

Obviously I follow his day - which ultimately involved him not playing in our 0-0 draw. I'm pleased with the point; it's another step in a slow recovery, and also sympathetic to Garbutt whose day seems to have been a largely pointless ball ache. I just hope he knows that they start charging if you park for more than two hours.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The wrap - Oxford United 2 Plymouth Argyle 0


When we did our house up a few years ago, the plumber who came to sort something out opened a door in the loft and was confronted by a myriad of pipes the like of which he'd never seen before. It was like a pit of vipers that had been turned to copper.

It turned out that the previous owner had been a builder, and had built the heating system himself using bits and pieces of pipes and valves from various jobs he'd done all across Europe. It worked, but as soon something went wrong, only he was be able to figure out where the problem was.

It felt a bit like that on Saturday. Despite the furore over Gavin Whyte during the week, the starting eleven was perhaps the best available in terms of both personnel and formation. John Mousinho sitting in midfield like the world's first free-ranging centre-back was able to protect the back four from it's own disorganisation. It also protected him from his predilection for getting caught in possession whilst being the last man.

Up front, Jamie Mackie defied age, injury and his ability to play exactly how you'd want him to play -  work hard, batter everyone, complain constantly. Get to the edge of exhaustion or a red card, whichever comes sooner, before getting substituted for someone more mobile. He was brilliant throughout, even in his interview afterwards. If you listened quietly, you could almost hear the words 'Danny Hylton' wafting over the airwaves. For a moment, it felt like he was back.

Marcus Browne simplified everything by running in straight lines at ferocious speed, frightening their back-four. He's a curious specimen; his pace is extraordinary and fabulously damaging, but after each burst he'd have his hands on his knees or be visibly trying to catch his breath. Like a Golden Eagle, hugely powerful and dominant, but every exertion seems to weaken him.

Still, with Browne's ability to make everyone run in straight lines; Ricky Holmes' talent to disrupt becomes an asset rather than a confusion to his own players.

It worked, and worked well; it was three points we desperately needed. But it still doesn't feel like the sustainable solution that is going to give us the 18 more wins we'd need to trouble the play-offs. Like the plumbing system; when everything works its fine, but what happens when it doesn't? There isn't another John Mousinho, Marcus Browne or Jamie Mackie in the squad. Each new mix of players produces a different system; some that work fine, some terribly. It is, at best, another holding solution.

Karl Robinson was more subdued, which appeared to be deliberate. For him, it was a no-win situation - a loss would have been catastrophic, a win, against Plymouth, at home was no more than a minimum requirement. For many, it was never going to be more impressive than turning up on time for kick-off. The result, whatever it turned out to be, was never likely to turn public opinion in his favour.

Part of Robinson's problem was illustrated by the Gavin Whyte affair. He showed all the frustration of a fan in seeing Whyte miss a crucial game to sit on the bench for Northern Ireland, but his bargaining position was limited. As Michael O'Neill said, it's not his fault League 1 games don't get postponed during an international break, and the rules are clear about who decides who plays. Plus O'Neill probably had 10 times the media opportunities to get his view across than Robinson.

But, Robinson's lack of strategic thinking meant his outburst about the disrespect being shown to the club and the disgrace made him look petulant and childish; particularly when it got amplified via various national media outlets to fill time between international games. From a PR perspective, he walked right onto a sucker punch.

With fans already against him, he was always going to look stupid picking a fight he couldn't win. Fans were always going to spin it to prove their point about his inappropriateness for the role. Had he said, calmly, that he had made attempts to contact O'Neill to see what Whyte's situation was and whether he could play, omitting all the stuff about it being disrespectful and a disgrace, it wouldn't have made the national headlines and local fans may have seen Robinson as the hard working, always thinking manager he appears to be. With Sean Derry on interviewing duties, and Robinson spending long periods on the bench, the aim seemed to be to calm the whole situation down and avoid saying something stupid.

Derry said that Southend and then Plymouth were building blocks. Nothing is solved yet. There is no magic - black or otherwise - as Robinson frequently tries to claim, deciding our fate. It is what it is, a win, and that's all that's important right now.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The wrap - Southend United 0 Oxford United 0


The phrase 'get out of our club' or variations thereof have been bellowed at Karl Robinson more than once in the last week. It's a phrase that makes me increasingly uncomfortable.

The use of 'our' insinuates mob rule which aims to isolate its target. It says 'we' are in agreement that 'you' are not part of this and therefore have no say. I'm no fan of bullying, and this is the dictionary definition of that.

The second is the implication that Robinson should do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. He should 'get out'. This would be wholly to his detriment. Whatever you think about the club or Robinson, he has every right to try to fix the problems while the club are prepared to pay him to do that. He has a career to protect, and by extension, a family to support. People very rarely leave their job because of some unwritten moralistic standpoint; they keep working up until they find something better to do or someone tells them to leave.

Therefore, until he is told otherwise, he should be given the opportunity to fix the problems. Moreover, if he does fix them, then those successes should be recognised. A point at Southend does not solve the problems of the last few months, but it is a step in the right direction. For some, there was disappointment that it didn't fit their preconceived narrative of Robinson's failings.

Don't get me wrong; there's a lot to do. We've got to claw back five points just to get out of the relegation zone, fourteen to bother the play-offs; which is where success should lie if we're looking to make progress. In addition, there's a lot of trust to be won back.

I think relegation is more than avoidable, but the play-offs are a distant hope, and it's a longer stretch still to think that the fans will fully embrace Robinson. The implication for the club is that without that trust attendances are unlikely to grow. Even if we finish bottom this season, it will be our third highest finish in the last 20 years, but nobody is going to get excited by that.

I think the likelihood of getting near the play-offs are virtually zero. As a result, I think the club have to look at whether Robinson is the long term solution. I wouldn't argue against it if they decided he wasn't.

But, I don't believe he is an incompetent charlatan, nor a dishonourable man. I don't believe he doesn't feel it when things go wrong. I don't believe he shirks work. When people talk about him 'taking responsibility' for the issues, he frequently does, but when he tries to explain where he thinks those problems are, which inevitably talks about players not doing what they're supposed to, it's viewed as blaming others.

Some of the things he's done and said recently have been confusing, no doubt. But I think that's down to the stress of the situation. I don't think giving Shandon Baptiste the captain's armband is clever, or disowning the signing of Jamie Hanson. Perhaps in hindsight, he knows these things are wrong. He needs a clear head, and that is going to be increasingly difficult if this run of form continues.

Earlier in the season I said you'd have to take stock after twelve games. That's where we are at the moment. If Robinson were to be given the sack, then it would be difficult to argue a case against that. If not, then the we have to focus on the next 10 or so, rather than wait for him to get the bullet so we can all salivate over his execution, there's a lot of lost ground to make up. If Robinson does somehow muster the troops and start moving us forward, then he'll have my backing. 'Our' club's door should always be open to success.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The wrap - Oxford United 1 Luton Town 2


Joe Burnell won't demand many paragraphs in the history of Oxford United. So much so, I had to look up his name, and then again when I forgot it twenty minutes later. But, he made a significant contribution to the resurrection of the club when things were at their lowest.

At the end of September 2008, having only won one league game at home, we faced Cambridge United. There were rumours we were going into administration and that the season was already lost. Burnell was captain, brought in by Darren Patterson. In the opening minutes he flew into what you might call an early-doors reducer, which drew a booking. It also set the tone to fight for a 3-1 win.

Ultimately neither Patterson nor Burnell survived long, but after that result we no longer felt sorry for ourselves and remained unbeaten in the league at home until the last day of the season. By this point Chris Wilder was manager and we'd gained enough momentum to threaten the play-offs. A year later, we were promoted.

That tackle galvanised that squad, last night confirmed this one is falling apart. At the heart of the problem is chaos. It's everywhere you look.

Shandon Baptiste - 'the future of the club' - got the captain's armband for the Manchester City game, principally for the experience. Then, with John Mousinho dropped, he got it again against Luton. Why?

According to Karl Robinson, being captain is such a distraction, that experienced players like Curtis Nelson can't do the role while negotiating a new contract. And yet, it's so trivial it can be handed over to a 20-year-old with seven league games under his belt during a losing streak. So, is it important or trivial? Has it been taken off Curtis Nelson to relieve some burden, or as punishment for not signing a contract? Nelson may well leave at the end of the season, maybe before, but what benefit is preventing him from being captain offering? If he's not performing don't play him, if he is, use him to his max. Wouldn't making him captain hold him to account even if he were looking elsewhere?

When the players needed to pull together and keep their heads, the onus was on Baptiste make it happen. Not only did he lack experience and authority, he was already on a final warning before being sent off. It might have happened without the armband, but it was an unnecessary complication for him to deal with. Perhaps without that sense of having to lead by example, he'd have pulled out of one of his challenges and stayed on the pitch.

When Luton equalised, Cameron Brannagan was seen berating Nelson. Would he have done that if Nelson had been captain? Perhaps not. Does Brannagan - consciously or sub-consciously - look at Nelson as a weakened authority because he's lost the captaincy? Maybe. Did Baptiste have the authority to defuse the situation? Probably not.

The ill-discipline spread. Baptiste's sending off was inevitable and deserved. But Hanson was flying around with no discipline. He could have been the Joe Burnell, igniting some fight, Robinson said he'd 'lost his head', then went on to him being 'the club's signing' (not his). And despite him deliberately isolating the player, he then claimed he was his protector. But which is it? 

Up front, Jon Obika's role was never going to look pretty; lone strikers never do. It's you against three or four defenders. You run into walls, lose out on challenges and fall over a lot. Your role is either to hold the ball up for others, flick them on to runners, chase them down  when sent over the top, or simply to wear their defenders down in order to let others with pace to exploit their exhaustion. Most of the time you're just being crowded out or out muscled. It's just maths, you against three or four others, you're not going to win very much. It's thankless.

Obika did some of these things he needed to do, some of the time, but those around him weren't ready to benefit from his work. Was there a plan? Robinson claimed they'd talked about it, it's just the players hadn't done what they were told. This raises the question as to why? But, I think it was more flawed than that - Obika is the man you bring on late to exploit the damage done by a battering ram like Jamie Mackie. We did the opposite.

Now, look at Ricky Holmes' goal - it was an excellent goal, driving to the edge of the box before threading his shot through six or seven players who were converging on him. Even then, look more closely, you'll see Oxford players being caught up in Holmes' break. There's no shape to give him options, nobody anticipating rebounds, eventually everyone stops running because the space has become so crowded. Thankfully on this occasion, it wasn't important and Holmes found the net, but he frequently runs into traffic and attacks break down or worse. Has Robinson got a plan for Holmes? It doesn't look like it.

Here's my theory. We often applaud managers that are good with a tight budget - John Coleman at Accrington is an excellent example, maybe Chris Wilder as well. Then there are managers who are good with a good budget. It's often considered easy to have a big budget, but it isn't. Having a big budget means having more players who expect to play and expect their talent to override the need for tactics or plans. You can't manage things as tightly, you have to let players express themselves, but only within a framework that wins you games.

Robinson is the kind of manager that needs a good budget to be successful. It can be expensive and wasteful, but it can be very successful. There's a skill in keeping stars happy, keeping everyone engaged and involved. Perhaps when Robinson says the players think they're the best managed in the league he means his squad has the best fun. In these cases, organisation is less important than the vibe you create. If you get the right vibe, then the performances take care of themselves. If you get the vibe wrong the creative space become a chaotic space, then the failure is uncontrollable and spectacular. Those who like that environment no longer contribute, those who hate it become disillusioned. The discord is evident, the lack of product, the utter and abject failure is there for all to see. Look as hard as you like, there are no shoots of hope.

I think that's where we are at the moment. Enough ability in the squad, but totally out of control. It's impossible to see how 'fun-boss' Karl Robinson can suddenly pull rank in order to instill the discipline needed to win games. I'm not sure he has the ability to do that either, he's the life and soul of the party, not a sergeant major. To not put too fine a point on it; it looks like we've reached a dead-end.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The wrap - Wimbledon 2 Oxford United 1


Football clubs have funny structures; at their most important point - the interface between the machine that funds the club and the machine that delivers the benefit is one person; the manager. If it were a car, it would be like having a single screw holding the engine to the chassis.

Clubs are beginning to wise up to the idea that they have this single point of failure. A club like Watford, for example, have changed their manager almost annually in recent years, while the machine the sits behind them has remained fairly stable. Despite this apparent flux, they have progressed year on year.

Managers don't last very long; yes, owners are often hasty in their decision making and sometimes managers attain positions they are barely capable of leading on the basis of their connections or playing record. But, it's not always a simple question of competence.

Being a manager is a ridiculously stressful job and often its that, not their ability, which results in their departure. They're the aforementioned single point of failure, they have to explain everything to the media, they are in an occupation which has only 92 positions in the country of which no more than one or two are vacant at any one time. With the odds stacked against you; it's surprising that any manager is wholly rational and logical in the first place; if you applied logic to football management as a career choice, you wouldn't choose it in the first place.

Stress comes from being overwhelmed with the information you're expected to process. Sometimes there's too much, sometimes it makes no sense and you can't find the links and logic. The log-jam of unprocessed information causes your brain to go into overdrive trying to process it day and night, or sometimes shutting down and pretending its not happening.

Karl Robinson is stressed. Not because he's stone cold incompetent; what he achieved at MK Dons and Charlton both show he is capable of managing a football club to a degree of success. But, his current situation hasn't happened to him before. Injuries, performances that don't produce goals or results, an owner he struggles to communicate with, fans that don't trust him; all at the same time, one overlapping another like waves.

Even if he has been given assurances, there must be some part of him that knows his job is under threat. Add to this the knowledge that reputations are rapidly crushed in football; one failure and your reputation can drop like a stone. It's not just a question of proving your competence, it's also that your failures make you toxic from a PR perspective.

The signs are there - last week he skulked his way through his interview feeling sorry for himself, yesterday - after the defeat to Wimbledon - he was even less coherent. There was something about him doing his job by preparing the team in the middle section of the field, it was, he said, down to players to put the ball in the back of the net. The subtext was that it was them to blame, not him.

I think I know what he meant, when you're in front of goal, someone has to take a risk and shoot. But the idea that once the ball reaches the penalty box, the manager's job is done is clearly nonsense. Anyone who saw Liam Sercombe score 17 goals from midfield in 2015/16 - frequently following up missed opportunities - knows that you can increase the chances of scoring through a pre-defined way of playing.

If you add to this his decision to take the captaincy off Curtis Nelson or drop Cameron Norman because - as stated publicly - he's not playing well (not because Sam Long did well against Manchester City), suggests to me that he might be being honest and straight forward, but he's not thinking about how his actions might impact the players or the fans.

It's important to separate out Karl Robinson, the person, from any stresses he is currently experiencing. I don't believe he is an incompetent charlatan, who has managed to trick his way through his career. I do believe that he's struggling to process the problems he has and I question whether he will get the support or headspace to recover his rational side. And, for that reason, you have to question whether - for him and the club - the relationship is sustainable.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The wrap - Oxford United 0 Manchester City 3


I like the Premier League; I get all the arguments about the obscene amounts of money being thrown around and the effect foreigners have on the England team, but in the end it's all a bit of a blur of numbers and names and I've long given up trying to keep up. Instead, I quite enjoy the spectacle; the games, the goals, Match of the Day and in a world where you're lucky to have two teams with a chance of a domestic league title, the fact there are five or six who can win it, the competitiveness.

I even quite like Manchester City - I admire their dedication to excellence and recognise that their dominance is the result of relentless professionalism not a god given gift. I think they probably do good things for the women's game and local community too. If you're going to buy your way to success, at least they've  done it with a degree of class.

But theirs is not the same football I watch. Like one of those genetic curiosities where man is more closely related to a fish than a monkey, if you were to pick apart the DNA of the lower leagues, you'd probably find it had more in common with club rugby than with the Premier League. And it's not less valid because of it.

So, what did we watch on Tuesday? Who knows? Nobody could really calibrate it - some said that if, by some miracle, we contrived to win, then Karl Robinson would take all the undeserved glory, if we got obliterated, then it would crush us for the rest of the season. They probably wouldn't play a strong team anyway. We practically talked ourselves into it being a non-event.

Robinson's response was curious - we're playing the best team in the country and one of best in the world, so we field a weakened team. Was that to avoid the impact of a crushing defeat on morale? To make us appear as blasé as them and therefore, a little bit like them? Did he, like us, not really want the game to happen? Or did he just want to turn it into a debacle against which he couldn't be judged? It just made the whole spectacle harder to understand.

The mismatch was so huge, it was no longer a game of football in the sense that we understand it. It was like a fight between a lion and a goldfish. The lion eviscerates the goldfish, nobody is surprised. It's superior, but that doesn't mean the lion can live under water. Or something. It was not 'a match' - as there was nothing to match them with us. It proved nothing, it was just, a thing. An exhibition. A piece of benign mid-week light entertainment.

The club seemed to confuse the size of our stadium with the size of our opponents. Dire warnings of parking and traffic chaos meant people like me turned up earlier than they would for any other game, even though it was a crowd size very similar to games against the likes of Swansea, Newcastle and Northampton. As a result, I was there when the City coach turned up flanked by Mercedes people-carriers full of, what? Secret service agents? They don't have those when Accrington turn up.

At the back of the South Stand was some multi-directional high tech contraption set up by City which presumably was monitoring the players and their movements. For City, perhaps this was just an exercise in data capture - I assume they can now predict that Nicolas Otamendi will have a headache a week next Tuesday based on the way he traps the ball on his thigh. This is not the same football we play.

Nobody expected us to even come close to winning, so the tension of expectation was completely absent. Even our display, as impressive as it was, didn't stir the loins like the unveiling of the giant flag against Swindon. It was all very polite and deferential. The Guardian said we were 'outclassed' in the way the lion 'outclassed' the goldfish.

So, if the result wasn't the point of the exercise, did we learn anything? The game felt like one of those stress tests that new tech products go through so you can boast to your friends they'll work even if you lived on Venus, which you won't, rendering the boast both impressive, and meaningless.

We were given tests which we'll never experience against the likes of Bradford or Southend. We were tested on how we would defend a 70 yard cross field pass to a man with the speed of an Olympic sprinter. At one point they were passing it around the back line, with every pass they'd move forward pushing us back while their midfield darted in between our legs offering options and generally bamboozling us. It was like the crusher scene in Star Wars - slow, relentless; an impressive show of force, but not one we'll come across in League 1.

But, we coped pretty well; we weren't humiliated like many feared, we showed that we do have discipline, something that's been so absent this season. We probably saw the future of English football, until he disappears without trace under a pile of more fully developed expensive foreigners bought from the Bundesliga and elsewhere. If we apply ourselves in the league like we did on Tuesday, then we'll be OK once we're back with our own. It was a perfectly pleasant evening, but no more than that.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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.