THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

After failing to win promotion back to Division Two, Martin Brodetsky tells how Oxford United face another season in a "god-awful" league

What was behind the sudden departure of Ian Atkins?
Atkins was suspended after Bristol Rovers chairman Geoff Dunning revealed Atkins would be the Gas’s manager next season. Many fans don’t blame Atkins for seeking job security, but feel he should have had the confidence to stay with United, where his contract apparently had an automatic one-year extension if he won promotion. On the other hand, Rovers offered him a two-year deal, probably on more money, and promotion wasn’t guaranteed. Most fans were happy to see the back of Atkins and his deeply unpopular, boring defensive tactics.

What is Division Three’s current standard of play?
It is a god-awful division. Last season the clubs that played the best football (Hartlepool, Bournemouth, Rushden and Wrexham) deservedly went up. This season fewer clubs play properly and Oxford certainly aren’t one. The clubs at the bottom would struggle in the Conference, while only Hull and Huddersfield are likely to survive in Division Two.

What have been your best and worst moments?
Best moment was undoubtedly the Milk Cup final at Wembley on April 20, 1986. Everything since has been one long anti-climax. The nadir was at the end of 1998 when the club looked likely to fold. More specifically, my worst moment was the game at Watford on November 7, 1998. United lost 2-0 and didn’t have a meaningful chance all game. To make matters worse the players took to the field wearing Watford’s away strip, the kit man apparently having forgotten that the home side also played in yellow. But there were rumours going around that this was the last game the team was going to play, that the kit had been repossessed, that the laundry hadn’t been paid etcetera. Such was the atmosphere that they all seemed eminently believable.

Are Oxford’s crowds as good as could be expected?
Considering our recent decline, crowds have held up surprisingly well and are still averaging more than in the last season in Division One at the Manor. Having said that, it wasn’t that long ago that attendances were double what they are now (albeit in a higher division), or that 30,000 were cheering the club on at Wembley. United are often criticised by fans for lacking marketing ideas and the club does have a lowish profile in the local community. Then again, average attendances are only slightly lower than Swindon’s, who have a larger population, are in a higher division, attracting much larger away attendances and doing better than we are.

Milestones & Millstones
1893 Headington formed by a vicar to keep local cricketers busy in winter.
1894 “United” is added to our name.
1925 After playing on various fields around Headington, the club finally move to the site that was eventually to become the Manor Ground.
1949 Headington turn pro and join the Southern League, becoming the county’s premier club ahead of the determinedly amateur Oxford City.
1953 United win the Southern League and the SL Cup double.
1954 Beaten 4-2 by Nat Lofthouse’s Bolton in FA Cup fourth round (below).
1960 Become Oxford United; at last people know where the hell we are.
1962 After successive title wins, United are elected into the Football League to replace Accrington Stanley.
1964 Become the first Division Four side to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, losing 2-1 at home to Preston in front of a record crowd, 22,730.
1965-68 Promoted to Division Three, then win it, having been captained by Ron Atkinson from non-League to Division Two.
1984 Eight years after relegation, win Division Three and reach the fifth round of the FA and League Cups.
1985 Win Division Two, to be the first (and only) side to win the second-tier and third-tier titles back to back.
1986 Beat QPR 3-0 in the Milk Cup at Wembley and avoid relegation after beating Arsenal 3-0 on final day, to the delight of chairman Robert Maxwell.
1988 Decline begins with relegation.
1998 Backroom staff go unpaid for two months and receive food parcels from fans as club almost folds.
1999 Firoz Kassam buys the club for £1 and begins the long haul of moving from the Manor Ground.
2001 Oxford United plays their first game at the Kassam Stadium.
2004 United miss out on promotion yet again.

Fondly remembered
Billy Hamilton – Mushroom Billy (he liked picking them) was only here from August 1984 to October 1986 but scored 20 goals in 41 games. He was also very friendly, always smiling. His career was ended by injury, but not before he launched his incredibly unsuccessful Soccer Academy board game.

Best forgotten
David Kemp – Manager for 31 games, losing 21. Brought in by Joe Kinnear in November 2000 and somehow survived until the penultimate home match. His final game in charge saw United beat Swansea 3-1, each Oxford goal being greeted with a chorus of “Kemp Out” by the Oxford fans. 

From WSC 208 June 2004. What was happening this month

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