Chelsea Transfer Target
Jul 15, 2017, 4:40 PM
I visited Oxford United a couple of times as an away supporter in their Conference days. The first one in 2006-07, under Jim Smith, they were one of the most unpleasant, arrogant and unhelpful clubs I have ever had the misfortune to visit with Altrincham fans being attacked for the club daring to get a late equaliser.
A couple of years later, under Chris Wilder, everything had changed. Oxford won this match, but the welcome was very friendly and warm. I thought to myself this could be down to the manager's influence with a decent man replacing a nasty bully who imposed his own character on the club, before deciding that was a silly idea, then, lo and behold, Altrincham's chairman said pretty much the same thing in his programme notes for the next home match.
Odd that we thought the manager made such an impact while you think the opposite! Did you feel any change at the club around 10 years ago?
I was at the Altrincham match that day, too, and it's terrible to hear of the way you and other Alty fans were badly treated. In Jim Smith's defence, though, I think the bad practices and the bullying attitude that you experienced on your visit to the Kassam in the 06-07 season had their roots ingrained much further back than that.
When Jim Smith took over as manager, and Nick Berry as chairman, in March 2006 it was seen as the start of a new (and hopefully better era), despite the relegation to the Conference that happened two months later. But nobody is ever going to turn things around as fast as most fans will demand. That relegation (and the unpleasant, arrogant and unhelpfulness you mention) were the result of the years of Firoz Kassam as chairman (this man is still playing hard-ball over the ownership of the stadium to this day), and a string of managers who were opinionated, unhelpful, unsupported, under-resourced or just plain poor at their job: David Kemp was way out of his depth, Brian Talbot and Ian Atkins both left under angry clouds, Ramon Diaz's term was pure chaos (he was actually refused entry into the ground at one point, eventually watching the match among the fans in the East Stand), and Graham Rix was simply Graham Rix. The nasty antics of striker Julian Alsop towards his teammates deserve a thread all of their own. The huge volume of debt run up during this era (which Firoz paid off at under 10p in the pound), Firoz Kassam's questionable business dealings (though his mum will no doubt tell you he saved the club for £1), the leaving of The Manor Ground (for which Firoz pocketed most of £6million), the relegations of 1999, 2001 and then 2006, and maybe even the residue of nasty memories left by Robert Maxwell all went towards making OUFC at that time almost certainly a very unhappy and depressing club to play for, work for, to watch or to support, and by March 2006, OUFC really were an embarrassing basket-case of a football club.
You are right in what you say about Chris Wilder and his fantastic influence upon OUFC from when he became manager in December 2008, despite sometimes not getting the credit he was due - he really dug Oxford out of a hole - I still feel the bloke is a proper legend, and am personally overjoyed for him for his subsequent achievements at Northampton Town and Sheffield United. But things grew stronger in the boardroom at the same time, too. Moving on from there, Michael Appleton deserves much credit for improving the way OUFC are viewed by the press, by other clubs and their own fans by encouraging attractive football and good practices both on and off the pitch(and in the past I've been one of Appleton's biggest critics!!)
The truth is that, eleven years down the line, OUFC are now one of the happiest clubs to play for, work for, to watch or to support (500 happy fans out in Portugal to watch glorified training sessions proving the point). Jim Smith's return in March 2006 was based on a lot of fond memories of past glories (both his and the fans'), but looking back now you can see that he was probably the wrong choice at the wrong time, and wouldn't have known what the hell he was letting himself in for. My own Pompey loyalties (I am NOT an Oxford United fan!) mean that I'm loathe to criticise the bloke, because he's a hero at Fratton Park, too - in 1992, he bought tickets for me and twenty-four other Pompey fans at AC Ascoli out of his own pocket, and other people I know who have met him always say what a decent friendly bloke he has always been. But like I say, in 2006 he was the wrong choice at a very difficult time.
Again, I'm sorry to hear of your bad experience at the Kassam when visiting with Altrincham that season, and I'm glad that things had improved markedly by your return a couple of years later. However, the name I think to blame should maybe be that of Firoz Kassam, the one dark cloud that still remains on Oxford United's horizon.
(This post was edited by oxpete on Jul 15, 2017, 4:57 PM)