Together to the End - Always!
Thank you to everyone associated with Oxford United. Collectively, you have transformed this wonderful football club, both on and off the pitch, and we have, without doubt, taken the first steps in building the club both sustainably and with a culture in which we can all take pride, epitomised by a togetherness and ‘win together, lose together’ ethos.
While today is a day of expectancy and anticipation, as it should be, we should also remember it is part of a longer-term journey, whatever the result today.
From a personal perspective, it really has been a season to remember with so many memorable moments that will last a lifetime but, above all else, I will always treasure the camaraderie and kinship.
‘Thank you’ is an inadequate expression for the gratitude I want to convey to the three groups of people who are the lifeblood of the club.
First, to Michael Appleton, his coaching team and, of course, the players for a magnificent season. From the outset, Michael has placed a premium on bringing in people based on character, desire to succeed and a belief in team ethos allied to a playing philosophy which is based on a fast-paced, attractive passing style. The quality of our football is often a joy to watch, combined with a steeliness, resilience and will to win which makes supporting the side such an uplifting experience.
Next, a huge vote of thanks to all club staff, across all areas of operations, community and academy. There are many unsung heroes who work tirelessly in the interests of the club they love. Their loyalty and support is truly appreciated and always valued.
Finally, our fans - simply amazing! Thank you on behalf of everyone at the club for your wonderful support.
At home, we have seen a 20 per cent increase in attendances, four 10,000-plus attendances and a sell out today - and the small matter of over 34,000 fans at Wembley. The stadium can rock and you have shown this time and again this season. The roar when we went one down against Swansea made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck!
Our away support has been unbelievable, averaging over 1,000 per game, with an incredible 2,283 at Carlisle last week. You create a fantastic atmosphere which has, undoubtedly, played a key part in our record-breaking away record. Most of all, you represent the club so brilliantly and show what a passionate and friendly club we really are.
On Carlisle, I am delighted to pass on the good wishes of their board and many of their fans for your generosity in supporting the flood appeal earlier this year. This really was appreciated by Carlisle and is another demonstration that we are a club with real heart.
In recent weeks, I have also had the pleasure of attending our homes games in the WSL. It really is a great family day out and our young side is growing in stature and confidence with every game. We earned a well-deserved victory last Sunday against Sheffield and I would urge everyone to get down to Abingdon tomorrow to support the team in the cup against Millwall Lionesses.
We are also very proud to have been granted a three-year female Regional Talent Club (RTC) Tier 1 Licence. As Richard Blackmore said, "this is a fantastic achievement and shows just how far the club's female programme has developed - we are one of only 13 clubs who are in the top tier."
I think Richard, Les and the whole team deserve our congratulations and let's all support them in driving forward all areas of WSL and the Academy.
Back to today!
Off the pitch, we have piloted using the Littlemore Rugby Club clubhouse next to the Oxford Academy as a pre-match fan zone. Importantly, all food and drink profits go to the club.
If it is a success, and fans are happy with a 10-minute stroll to the ground, we would like to do this on a regular basis next season.
For the game, we have a full house and we welcome players, fans and officials from our local rivals, Wycombe Wanderers. It is sure to be a wonderful occasion with a fantastic atmosphere.
Nothing is a given in sport and we should expect no favours from anyone. After 45 games, our destiny is in our own hands. Let's give the team our usual 100 per cent backing and make sure we are the 12th man!