Fan Forum Extra Time

Last week Oxford United held a fans forum at the Mercure Oxford Hawkwell House Hotel in Iffley, where fans were invited to ask questions to a panel that featured Chairman Grant Ferguson, CEO Tim Williams, Chief Strategy Officer Niall McWilliams, Head Coach Karl Robinson, Women’s Manager Liam Gilbert, and Academy Manager Steve Kinniburgh.

Despite the forum going over the allocated hour, unfortunately there were a number of questions that fans had sent in advance that weren’t able to be asked on the night. We promised that we would answer all the questions, so here are those remaining questions and answers.

From Ashley Hall for Karl:
MK Dons are looking for a new manager, interested?
You’ve had one promotion in a long management career back in 2014-15 with MK Dons, do you believe you can take our club in to the Championship?

KR: I will always be grateful to MK Dons for giving me my first job as Manager. I was only 29 and I’m always going to have soft spot for them because we created a lot of great memories, just like we are doing here at Oxford. I am very happy here; the owners are very ambitious, and I have no intention of going anywhere. And you are right: winning promotion at MK was a very proud moment and winning promotion to the Championship with Oxford is something I truly believe we can, and will, achieve.

Our poor start this season has left us with a lot to do but we are making progress, we will be stronger in the second half of the season, so let’s see…

The World Cup was frequently cited as a reason for the club struggling to sign transfer targets in the summer. Will it continue to be a problem in January (as teams may ease players in gradually, meaning backup players are then needed for longer)?

KR: What it did was create uncertainty because the Premier League and Championship clubs knew there would be a month break in the season and were reluctant to let young players go out on loan, and that’s a really good point that is being made; players coming back from the World Cup have been playing in very intense weather and under immense pressure, so clubs may have to ease them back in. But the window closes at the end of January, not the first day, so hopefully the impact on our domestic season has worn off by then.

From Paul Bishop
What are the board’s minimum expectations for this season, bearing in mind the size of the playing budget?

Does the board accept that after five years of the same approach to achieving promotion, a change in management may be required, to avoid Groundhog Day?

GF: Promotion was, and is, the goal, and the budget gave us a realistic chance of achieving that, but as discussed at the Forum, there are circumstances beyond our control and the start of the season was very difficult for all of us. And I don’t agree that it is five years of the same approach. This football club is nowhere near what it was five years ago. It has changed in so many ways and Karl has been central to that. He remains so.

From Matt Hubbard
Will a move to a new stadium enable the club to reduce ticket prices (due to no longer paying high rent, etc.)? Or would prices need to increase to help pay back the cost of the new stadium?

From Matthew Butler
Will the club be including a safe-standing section as part of its emerging stadium designs? The atmosphere at games would be greatly improved by such a move and ensure that those who dislike remaining seated all game have a dedicated area to safely gather.

TW: I’m not sure that the venue dictates the ticket price so that’s a hard one to answer. Ticket prices would be based around a budget for a competitive squad, whatever division we are in by then. I believe in benchmarking against similar-sized clubs, but we won’t be asking season-ticket holders to pay a premium to build a new stadium.
And I grew up watching football on the terraces, so I fully understand what that adds to a matchday. The guidelines for safe-standing areas seem to change all the time but it is definitely on our radar. At the moment, nothing is ruled in or out and we will consult with fans on what they want to see at the stadium.

General Questions
From Tim Walker
I would like to understand what the club is doing with regards to the ticketing system. Over a long period of time it’s caused nothing but confusion and distress to a large number of supporters and I would hate for it to be disincentivising people from attending games.

I would like to know if the club acknowledges it’s a problem, and what is being done to resolve what really should be a simple intuitive process for fans.
Also, thanks to the great job being done by the always helpful and friendly ticketing staff at OUFC, who deserve better.

We addressed the ticketing issue last Monday night, but can we use this question to highlight the fantastic work that our ticket office staff do. They have been working so hard and the Arsenal game has allowed us to see where the cracks and strains show for the big games. We do need to address those, because big crowds every week has to be the aim.
But at the same time, there is a wider issue of people abusing staff who are doing a fantastic job. The same thing happened with the groundstaff when the Barnsley game got called off two weeks ago. Most fans understand and appreciate what people behind the scenes are doing, but whether it’s in person or on social media, can we ask people to respect staff at all times, just like we respect every single one of our supporters.

From Matt Hubbard

In the last couple of seasons, Karl would occasionally use his iFollow pre-match interviews to criticise the views of ex-players/pundits. This often coincided with Stevie Kinniburgh making comments on Radio Oxford after the previous match. As Stevie is now on staff, have the two reconciled their differences?

KR: The differences were never that huge and we would often have a chat at games when Stevie was on the radio. We always got on well and when Stevie applied for the job there was never a problem. Football people have different opinions, just like fans, so it is not an issue at all. I want people around me who challenge and question, and we have quickly become very aligned in what we want for the Academy and then that leading into the First Team.

Why is there not a small adult size for the kits this year (they start from medium)? I've heard that the badges on the junior shirts are smaller than on the adult ones, so just buying a larger junior shirt wouldn't be equivalent to a small adult shirt.
TW: I’ve checked that since we received the question and Macron adult sizes start at medium rather than small and this is the same for all their professional clubs, so our hands are tied on that one, unfortunately.

Jon Moore
Are there any plans to mark the contribution of Les Taylor to the club and the youth system in particular, in a permanent fashion (e.g. naming part of the training ground)?

KR: Les’s contribution has been huge, and we wanted him to be our Guest of Honour for a game, but he politely refused. So we had to ambush him with his former teammates, which was great. He deserves a massive acknowledgement for what he has done for the club, but it’s typical that he doesn’t want that. He is one of the humblest men you will ever meet and was very clear that he just wanted to retire and enjoy the next stage of his life. He didn’t want any fuss and hates the limelight, but we will do our best to make sure his legacy lives on at the training ground or at the stadium.

The full forum can be viewed here:

Our thanks to everyone who attended or watched the stream. We look forward to hosting another in the New Year