Tuesday 23rd July 2013 ko0 19.45 (delayed to 20.00 due to crowd congestion)
OXFORD CITY 5 (Skendi 26 34 Benjamin 33 Winters 39 Green 76)
OXFORD UNITED 1 (Hall 3p)
Often in the City of Dreaming Spires its United that get all the press coverage. It wasn’t always the case, in the 1930’s and 40’s Isthmian League City were top dogs, with Headington United, the Boys From Up The Hill playing in the inferior Oxon Senior, and then the Spartan Leagues. The balance of power shifted in 1949, when United turned semi-professional and entered the Southern League, eventually being elected to the Football League in 1962.
City had turned down professionalism before United accepted, it wasn’t such an easy decision as now, but it was a costly decision as United took and never surrendered their pre-eminence in the city, despite City continuing to print “The Premier Club in Oxfordshire,” on the programme for years after. It seemed like they didn’t matter any more, and when in 1988 they were evicted from their home at the Whitehouse Ground, by landlords Brasenose College, it looked like the end for the club.
They spent a time at Cuttleslowe Park http://wp.me/p1PehW-Oy and at Morris Motors FC, before moving to their current home Court Palace Farm in 1993, when they returned to the Isthmian League. Incidentally Court Place Farm was turned down by Oxford City Council as a site for United to move to many years previously!
Since that point things have been on an almost unbroken upward curve for the club. After relegation to,and then promotion from the Spartan South Midlands League, the Club were promoted to the Southern League. In 2012 City finished 2nd but won the playoff final against AFC Totton to gain promotion to Conference North for the first time in their history. Last season they finished 10th, but the more interesting news was the take-over of the club.
In April the Florida-based financier Thomas Guerriero became a director and club President. A new international holding company Oxford City Football Club LLC was formed and it jointly owns the club together with the established Oxford City Charitable Company.
Guerriero, aged 36 made his fortune on Wall Street, and claimed to have had offers from many clubs, but chose City, as he felt they had the right calibre of senior management. It all seems rather improbable, but it certainly looks a exciting development.
The problem for now is attendances, and what to do with them when they’re higher than the 250 or so that normally attend games. There’s little parking, a field was opened for this game, but nonetheless the kick-off was delayed to get everyone in, although I’m sure some waited to see the Royal baby depart the Lindo wing, and so delayed their journey along the Eastern By-Pass!
The ground now does have its B grade certificate, allowing the club to continue in Conference North. The floodlights have been upgraded, a new turnstile block built, and more seats crammed into a tight main stand. It ticks the boxes, but that’s all it does, you do wonder whether a new stand should be the long-term aim. I had a chat to club secretary John Shepperd, and another block to progress has been removed. When the club first moved here, an agreement was put in place that the club couldn’t play any higher up the footballing pyramid than the Isthmian Premier, then 2 divisions below Football League status. Nowadays City’s current status is at 2 promotions below the League, but the restriction, always a sop to those who’d opposed UNITED’s plans for the site, has been removed.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot wrong with City on the pitch either, and credit to the club for only charging £5 entry. United put out a team of Possibles, supplemented by youth and development squads. United took an early lead, Asa Hall scoring from the penalty spot after James Clifton had brought down Callum O’Dowda.
Unquestionably the turning point was when right-back David Lynn was forced off with a hip injury. Triallist Josh Ruffels, a midfielder replaced him, but City found it easy to exploit the lack of understanding between Ruffels and development squad centre half Kenzer Lee. 4 out of the 5 goals came from that channel, only the third didn’t, Albi Skendi mugging keeper Max Crocombe after Declan Benjamin’s shot. Skendi’s double will doubt interest Banbury United, the Albanian played for them last season, and appeared for the Puritans as late as the 17th in their mauling of Lichfield City.
It didn’t look good, a team sporting the likes of James Constable, and Scott Davies being soundly beaten by part-timers, but one look at the front of the stand told another story. For there were the Probables, watching the game whilst signing autographs. United’s season will depend far more on their form than the hapless bunch on the pitch. As for City and Thomas Anthony Guerriero, just watch this space. Its never dull watching football in Oxford!