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Tuesday 12th March 2019 ko 19.45

National League South

OXFORD CITY 1 (Tshmanga 14p)

WOKING 2 (Little 29 Bradbury 90)

Att 347

Entry £10 (includes £2 discount as an Oxford United season ticket holder)

Programme £2

As an Oxford United supporter any trip to Court Place Farm involves an element of “What could have been” about it. So convoluted were the club’s attempts to move from the Manor Ground that back in 1993 I actually managed to convince my degree tutor that there was enough in the subject to make it my dissertation. It may have helped that the tutor was a season ticket at Enfield FC… 

What you see here could have been so easily United’s, the application the club made for a 30,000 capacity stadium here in the late 1980’s was turned down on grounds of scale and potential disturbance, although quite a few United fans grumbled that the local Councillor for Marston was John Power, and he was a City fan!

Now the fact that even the recently-expanded Court Place Farm has an altogether more modest capacity of 2,000 shouldn’t be ignored! But not withstanding that it does seem a little ironic is that the main stadium is used as much by Oxford United’s non XI teams as it is by Oxford City.

Older Oxford City fans will no doubt hark back to a rivalry with United, although these days its hard to imagine a rivalry when the larger side is concerned only with Swindon Town! The roots of that old rivalry are from back in 1949 when local Boxing promoter Vic Couling, convinced that professional football could be supported in the city, offered to help City go professional, was rebuffed and headed up the hill to Headington United. The newly semi-pro club entered the Southern League in 1949/50 and became Oxford United in 1960. The rivalry foundered as United replaced Accrington Stanley in the Football League 2 years later- to younger United fans City had stopped being relevant.

The roots of Oxford United having a stake in Oxford City’s home lies with City’s takeover by the American businessman Thomas Guerriero, who bought a 50% stake in the club in April 2013. His back story of success in Wall Street in his twenties seemed too good to be true, and the local Ice Hockey club the Oxford City Stars, had already rebuffed his approaches a year earlier.

It all ended up with Guerriero clearly interested in the name to enhance his online learning scam (Oxford City University anyone?), and with him employing a team of salesmen in Florida to cold-call elderly savers and sell them shares in a valueless business. It was the classic “Boilerhouse Scam” and it all came crashing down and in May 2016 Guerriero started a 12 year prison sentence for fraud in Florida, leaving City with outgoings far above anything a part-time club could possibly support.

The club tried, and paid down some of a £1.5 million debt, but eventually the strain became too much for MD Colin Taylor, in July 2016 he was found one morning in the stand at Court Place Farm. He’d tragically committed suicide, for crimes committed by others.

Eventually in late 2016 Oxford City faced the virtually inevitable winding up petition. The club were minutes from extinction when the then Oxford United chairman Darryl Eales saved the club. He made a personal donation to help pay down the debt, and paid for the installation of the artificial pitch at Court Place Farm. A joint venture trading company was formed owned 50:50 by City and United to take over the lease on the main stadium facility. These days if United want to hold a fans meeting, its held here rather than at Grenoble Road,  but I do wonder what the situation is now that Eales is no longer involved at United? It’s worth knowing any hiring charges at Oxford United’s “home” at Grenoble Road go to stadium owner Firoz Kassam, not United.

But with all that troubled history, I’d fully expected City’s league position to have suffered, gates here aren’t big despite some creative pricing, and the days of expensively paid and located Spanish players are over. But with a reduced wage bill credit must therefore go to the management team here, City are comfortably mid-table and United have looked enviously at former Milton Keynes striker Kabongo Tshimanga. Another player to watch is midfielder Josh Ashby. Once of Oxford United, his future in the full-time game looked assured until he was the victim of a quite dreadful challenge in an Oxon Senior Cup tie away at Kidlington. His knee was badly damaged and he was released at the end of last season and he makes City’s midfield tick.

That said I’m fairly convinced that the irony of both Woking goals being scored by Oxford United assets wasn’t lost any Oxford City fan.  I’m sure also that Woking are more than aware that both Armani Little and Harvey Bradbury have been told they won’t be offered new contracts by United for next season.

It was a game of expectations. City are pleased to be surviving at this level, Woking were top and are targeting a return to Premier Division football at the earliest opportunity. They were well supported too, I suspect their fans made up over half the attendance. If this game was anyone’s season in microcosm it was City, taking the lead against a far better resourced side. Little’s equalising free kick was worthy of a bigger stage, but Bradbury’s smash-and-grab winner 7 minutes into 5 minutes stoppage time was a choker to the home fans who clearly thought City were worth a point.

But anyone who ever met Colin Taylor, or the likes of John Sheppard must be thankful that despite everything Oxford City are still in existence and seem to have worked through the majority of their problems.