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Tuesday 29th January 2013 ko 19.45

League 2

OXFORD UNITED 1 (Constable 50)

BURTON ALBION 1 (Maghoma 71)

Att 4,906 (65 away)

Entry S/T

Programme £3 (including Oxford Mail)

On Tuesday morning this fixture looked like a routine, if rather dull fourth division division encounter, and I found it rather difficult to raise any enthusiasm for it. The advantage of writing this on Friday is that this fixture can be put into full perspective with what followed.

My mood changed on the way to Grenoble Road, when the news broke that Max Crocombe was to get his first start in goal for Oxford. New Zealander Max is a first year professional, but with Ryan Clarke, and Wayne Brown above him in the pecking order in was hard to see how he was going to get a game, a problem exacerbated by there being no reserve team this season. Back in November I’d taken my friend Kellie to watch United’s FA Cup at Barnet, and after the game we’d lingered to take a few pictures of Underhill. Kellie had a chat with Max, not really knowing who he was, and we were both struck by what a thoroughly decent young man he is. But with Clarke out for the season, and Brown in poor form, the young lad got his chance.

He let no-one down either, nice lad or not. He even coped with the early loss of Michael Duberry to a hamstring strain early on, and I think all present bar the pitiful away following would have been pleased to see a home win courtesy of James Constable’s header at a corner, and Max collect a clean sheet. It wasn’t to be as Jacques Maghoma lost his marker, Michael Raynes, and fired home past Crocombe who was in no sense at fault. Even so there was a feel-good feeling around the ground at the final whistle, but that was shattered over the course of the next few days.

The first piece of bad news was shirt sponsor Bridle Insurance announcing that they will not renew the arrangement when it expires in the summer. Hardly a surprise when the firm now owns Eastleigh FC, but its a income stream that will need replacing. Another worry was that the club lost £450,000 during the last trading year, one would assume due to falling attendances. Clearly players wages and a high stadium rent are contributing factors, and ones that little can be done about, at least in the short term. The club is tied to its lease with Mr Kassam, and with him unwilling to sell, that’s a fixed cost that won’t go away. As for players’ wages, thats’s up to owner/chairman Ian Lenagan to set a sustainable budget and recruit and retain a manager that can work within it. Its questionable at best whether any of this is happening now, and certainly losses of this magnitude are not sustainable.

All this rather paled into insignificance with the signing of Luke McCormick last night on a contract for the rest of the season. I’ll leave the debate as to whether another keeper is necessary to another time, save to point out that Crocombe is set to represent his country at the under-20 World Cup in March. McCormick is a former Plymouth Argyle keeper, and his credentials are beyond reproach, but for one terrible detail.

In 2008 he was convicted of causing the death of children aged 8 and 10 by crashing his car into a vehicle driven by their father on the M6, whilst over twice the drink-drive limit. The father is still suffering from the injuries he received in the crash, and McCormick served 3 years and 7 months of a 7 years, 4 months prison sentence, being released in June 2012. So will no doubt say that McCormick has served his debt to society, and everyone deserves their their chance of redemption.

Oxford United have a precedent with midlfielder Adam Chapman who served just over a year of a 30 month sentence for causing death by dangerous driving, he was sending texts on his Blackberry. Chapman was successfully re-integrated into the team on his release, which is in marked contrast with McCormick who will be entering a new club with new players. Chapman was notable for showing remorse, and contact was made with the family of the gentleman he killed, so as not to cause any offence from his public job. None of this has taken place with McCormick, and you wonder why Oxford United would feel the need to taken on a player with so much baggage. Is it really simply a case of acquiring a good player at a knock-down wage?

On another level, the club likes to stress how it is a “Family Club,” and won the “League 2 Family Award” last season to prove the point. How does the signing of McCormick sit with that? Would his presence be a barrier to a company thinking of becoming shirt sponsor? He hardly fits the image a prospective sponsor would look for.

The shame of all of this is that Luke McCormick may well be a fine goalkeeper, although 10 games for Truro City in the Conference South since his release is hardly a ringing endorsement. I can imagine his presence being a massive distraction with everyone concerning themselves with him and not matters in hand. I can only conclude that he’s the wrong player in the wrong club, at the wrong time. The question now is whether his performances will make up for the inevitable circus that will surround him. I wonder also how Max Crocombe will deal with all of this, as unlike McCormick, he’s done nothing wrong.