"A Huge Eight Weeks!"
Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s game against Bristol Rovers.
As I have commented in previous notes, my grandfather used to take me to Eastville in the late 1960s and hence Rovers have always been a team I look out for. Accordingly, it is a pleasure to welcome fans, players and officials and let’s hope for a great atmosphere and exciting game.
These are my first reflections for a while, having been away on business at the end of January, so it is good to have the opportunity to reflect on 2017 so far and set the scene for what could be an amazing two months for the club. They are written ahead of the Luton game!
Our record since the turn of the year has been outstanding, both in terms, yes, of results, but to me, more importantly, the quality of our performances. We have played some breath-taking football, and, in summary, our record looks like this :
Checkatrade Won 2
FA Cup Won 2 Lost 1
League - Home Won 1 Lost 1
- Away Won 5 Lost 1
Total 10 3
Michael Appleton, the coaching team, and, of course, the players have delivered this level of performance which is predicated on a clear vision, incredible attention to detail, huge commitment and relentless work ethic, and cemented by a great team culture.
I have commented before on our commitment to getting player recruitment right and this is a true team effort, led by the experience and expertise of Michael and Derek but significantly aided by the diligence and rigour of our recruitment team, especially Mark Thomas and Craig Dean. Our recruitment decisions are based on thorough diligence and collective open discussion to ensure all angles are considered.
At the heart of everything is Michael. I have commented before on his many qualities, both as a man and a leader. We are truly fortunate to have such a talented manager at the club.
I also believe that we are reaping the dividend of the stability that we have created over the past couple of years and the judicious investment focus, both in our whole football set up and in developing what I believe to be an outstanding squad.
Football is a fragile game – the finest of margins often determine outcomes with significant consequences. This knowledge again calls for stability, consistency and strong relationships, based on respect, loyalty and trust. Personally, I cannot understand the decision to remove Claudio Rainieri. Fortunately, I believe the club benefits from the relationship between Michael and myself, which has grown and developed over the past three years and I hope continues for many years to come.
On the broader football front, we have said ‘au revoir’ to one of the club’s loyal servants, Richard Blackmore, who stepped down as General Manager of our Academy. I have known Richard for only two-and-a-half years of his 17 at the club but I have come to know a committed, humble, quietly spoken man who loves the club and just gets things done, without any need to claim the credit.
He has been at the heart of the development of the Academy and, more recently, the establishment of the Oxford United Ladies team. We tried to persuade Rich to stay but he decided that it was time for his own career to move on and find a new challenge. He leaves with our heartfelt thanks and sincere best wishes for the future. He remains a true friend of the club and we hope he comes back on a regular basis.
Our Academy remains central to the club’s commitment to youth development and community. We do have issues, mainly stemming from the lack of a permanent base and infrastructure, and we need to improve a local scouting network and relationships with local clubs. Finally, we need to ensure that the investment balance between first team and Academy is optimised – an area of perennial trade off!
I am also delighted that Andy Cook has been appointed as First Team Manager of the Oxford United Women’s team as well as joining our Community team, especially to drive our Advance partnership with Oxford Academy school. Ruth Senior and Kate Longworth have unearthed a good ‘un and we wish Andy well in his new role.
Before closing these notes, it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to our magnificent travelling fans who, with three away games in a week, demonstrated amazing commitment and support at all three games. I watched our last two from the terraces and would just like to say thank you for the incredibly warm welcome – it means a lot!
So, with 14 games to go, we find ourselves six points off the play offs – watch this space!
PS: Wembley - again! Amazing!