Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.38) Northampton away

Article by Paul Beasley

New Majority Shareholder and Chairman

To date I’ve made very little comment on the issue of ownership of Oxford United FC. Firstly I didn’t think I was well enough informed to add any value to the debate, although plenty did by just relying on rumour, guesswork, disgusting language, disrespect and worse. Others will have been more in the know than I.

Secondly, whatever will be will be. There had been so many sightings of Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth (and sensibly like everyone else I’m going to call him Tiger from hereon in) at the Kassam Stadium over many months that it was more likely than not he would at some stage become the new owner. It was just a matter of when.

Of course it got frustrating for fans who wanted to know what was going on, but I’d wager that if on field form had not dipped alarmingly there may not have been much more than a shoulder shrug from many. There’s also such a thing as non-disclosure agreements and even if there weren’t it would make no sense at all to have the process of any takeover anywhere played out in the open. There are people who don’t seem to grasp this concept. OxVox do, so criticism of that group is ridiculous.

For some time now, if not from almost the very beginning of his reign, Darryl Eales has said he / OUFC would need extra help to finance the club at Championship level. He said he could afford L1 costs but not beyond that. DE’s ambition was to get OUFC into the Championship and we were told that the type of football we were playing in L2 would serve us well after promotion. This was rather presumptuous, but why not aim high? It turned out to be partially correct, with a joyous promotion and some great football last season too but we weren’t quite good enough to force our way into the top six. That was under Michael Appleton and on field progression has not only stopped but gone into reverse since his departure. It can also be argued that the whole business model that easily looked sustainable, at least for L1 level, of bringing in potential, developing them and selling them on for a profit, has also ceased to be.

DE took over in July 2014. He became Chairman and Mark Ashton the Chief Executive Officer. Ashton left in December 2015 with Eales adding “Executive” to his job title. It has been suggested that it was at this point the wheels got a little looser. I don’t know but something changed somewhere along the road.

Our former Executive Chairman’s personal circumstances changed too along the way and that has to have an impact. We are not (yet?) a Championship club but the financial help, although I don’t think that’s quite the right description, has arrived

So here we are with a new owner but with DE staying on the Board and retaining a shareholding and significant investment. The majority shareholder will obviously hold sway in every decision but input from the former main man cannot be a bad thing, although if there is a falling out there will be only one winner and one who walks away.

I regularly wonder what on earth possesses anyone to want to own a football club. Even if you dearly love the game why would you purchase a club that’s not the one you support? And buying the one you have followed since childhood can surely only end in disaster when the baying masses turn on you for not winning promotion to L2 / L1 / the Championship / the Premier League or lifting the Champions League trophy. And turn on you they will do, eventually. That turning means nothing to many owners for they are the owners of the power. They have the control. They love it. There are plenty of examples of owners who have shafted football club x and their fans by taking money out leaving a massive debt and moving on.

I have absolutely no idea the route we’ll travel with Tiger at the wheel. I’ll judge on what materialises. I’ve had a quick look but can’t find that much on him and I have not got the inclination or time to get my shovel out and turn into a proper investigative journalist. (I naturally reserve the right to return to this subject).

We all know that Reading provides some clues but the general feeling is that he and his fellow owners could afford to fund them at championship level. Or should that be keep funding failed attempts to get into the Premier League? Well here we’re starting from a much lower base.

And whilst we’re at it why not keep an eye on RFC Prop Co. Ltd.

I’ve spoken to Mr Eales on a couple of occasions. I think he’s a genuinely nice guy. I have never had a free hotdog. Providing such things was imho a fantastic way to reach out to the fans and attempt to unite us because let’s face it there had been a huge disconnect between supporters and owners over many years. Think Firoz Kassam. (Well you have to even now as landlord. Has Tiger had a chat?) Perhaps then not quite as bad under Ian Lenagan, but come on. Nick Merry could not even afford any socks. Yet we’ve had really abusive food based insults directed at DE, the best Chairman we’ve had for years. Which again adds to the argument of why do it? Hey, I’ll take this on. I’ll get so much shit thrown my way. Some deserve it. Mr Eales certainly doesn’t.

As for the charge that he has made money out of the club, no one has explained how. I don’t know how much Tiger has paid DE for the shares he has acquired but I suspect it is not enough to show a profit. To y/e June 2015 Oxford United registered a loss of £2.4m and the following year a loss of £1.8m with the debt then running at £11m ish. The accounts to y/e June 2017 should be out in the next couple of months. They may show a profit but I doubt they’ll even cover the losses of the previous two years and this financial year we’ve had no cup runs, no Wembley and lower gates. Accounts do not indicate that he has been paid any salary or fees so I’d be interested to hear his accusers explain how he’s made money.

Meanwhile though we have football matches to play. It is easy to get distracted but I would argue the game at Northampton is the most important by some distance since those vital fixtures at the back end of 2015/16. Every defeat just adds to that importance and ramps the tension up. We’re not yet in crisis mode but let’s not kid ourselves that an on field solution has been found by change of ownership. We’re all expecting another announcement to be imminent but meanwhile we’ve still got a caretaker in charge and it doesn’t feel like there’s anything like a foundation solid enough to guarantee that we’ll survive L1 easily and then be contenders next season.

I know assuming can be dangerous, but I’m going to assume that there are sound plans being put in place behind the scenes to ensure we will be in this league next season and very much there or thereabouts come the end of it. We’ll know so much more with Monday’s announcement.

So, onto the first match with Tiger fully on board. I wish I could get the Life of Pi out of my mind.

(Since I wrote this, as a shareholder I’ve received correspondence regarding strengthening the capital base of the club, capitalisation of certain accrued shareholder debt by allotting new shares with a nominal value of £2.4m to Ensco 1070 Ltd, a company controlled by DE and Oxford Investment Holding Pte. Ltd, a company controlled by Tiger)

Northampton Town 0 Oxford United 0

Considering how close Sixfields is for many Oxford supporters, particularly those living in the north of the county, you’d think there would be a feasible public transport option for such a short jaunt, but no. So car it was and a bit like at the Kassam, arrive early and parking is no real problem; arrive late and you could get stuck for over an hour afterwards. I was still surprised how many vehicles were already on location when we arrived at mid-day.

Having three hours to kill and having grown bored of the Melbourne Arms we opted for a couple of miles walk into Northampton town centre. I don’t think I’ve been there since I was a kid many decades ago. The route was hardly picturesque, all modern industrial units and retail outlets that are everywhere, Jewson and Travis Perkins, that sort of thing.  The Wig and Pen also had us wondering why we’d bothered. As pubs go, nothing wrong with it at all but we’ve supped better quality beer and been confronted with a much more inspiring choice. Good to be asked though: “CAMRA member?” Card shown and 10% taken off the price.

Next stop, the Albion Brewery Bar. This made the trek totally worth it and some more. Home of Phipps Northampton Brewery Company, drinkers can view beer being brewed as they drink. The range and quality of pints on offer could not be faulted and the restored building (the 1884 Ratliffe & Jeffrey’s Albion Brewery) is a very pleasant setting to sup them. No music but bar billiards and table skittles. Most of the fittings are reclaimed, with many coming from old Phipps pubs.

Things were looking up but there was still a football match to get through.

I would genuinely have taken a draw beforehand and given the way the first quarter of an hour or so went, I suspect most Oxford fans would have come round to that way of thinking. We were so open it was scandalous. The Cobblers didn’t just miss a couple of half decent chances but many very good opportunities to have us dead and buried before the game had really got started. Their biggest culprit was Chris Long.

I felt I was watching two poor sides with the home team clearly being the better of the two. Relegation? If either were playing like this in L2 at the moment they wouldn’t be worrying the top teams in that division.

Why we were so dismal is probably down to many factors, with lack of confidence being one. Confidence alone though doesn’t win games, or points, if the players don’t have the ability to deliver. Our full-backs again didn’t look like defenders. There was one occasion when Northampton had so much space down their left that I looked around for Todd Kane. I couldn’t see him anywhere. He might have nipped into the stand for a quick sit down for all I know. The midfield weren’t closing down either or forming anything resembling a barrier in front of the back line and with all this happening it is hard to work out how well the centre-halves are doing.


Some players are bigger than others. Photo, Simon Jaggs

It again was a men against boys affair and when I commented that we’re not winning any 50/50s my mate said something like we don’t even go for them. Possibly harsh, possibly correct.

Somehow though we made it to the interval with the game remaining goal-less and we had improved a bit as the half wore on. It would have been near impossible to have done otherwise.

We too had chances and actually came the closest to breaking the deadlock when Isaac Buckley- Ricketts hit the bar. That said neither he nor any of our other loanees really impressed me. Up to then I thought our best performer had been James Henry with Ricardinho in silver medal position. Henry was behind much of our better stuff in trying to get something positive going and our small Brazilian occasionally showed a bit of craft in a contest largely lacking this ingredient. Both though could have been a lot better and at times each was outmuscled.

No-one else was doing much at all to suggest we would turn things around. Alex Mowatt wasn’t bad but didn’t shine. Ryan Ledson is some way off his best form and I am becoming increasingly frustrated by John Obika. He seems to lose every physical battle and I’m struggling to work out what he is contributing.

Our away following of 1444 couldn’t have been bettered number wise as it was a sell-out and the backing given the team wasn’t bad considering what was going on before us in the opening stages. I didn’t hear such vicious moaning as I have done on some grounds but there were examples where we travellers were not happy and views were expressed accordingly. We’re dreadful at dead balls. That seems to be a given. After three short corners, which had all come to nought, the yellow followers raised a chant of “play it long, play it long” when we won another. Play it long we did. Way too long. “That’s why you play it short”, sang the Cobblers. Nice humour. I like that. Makes a pleasant change to the foul mouthed abuse that is thrown back and forth between sets of rival fans on many occasions. A few in our end recognised this witty retort and gave those responsible a little clap.

My mate had been happy for us to keep playing it short having pointed out that we’re crap at long ones. I can’t argue with that but at least mix the bloody delivery up and keep the opposition guessing. Also isn’t Rob Dickie supposed to be useful at getting on the end of corners and scoring a few?

In the second half we improved still further and there were spells when we kept the ball for lengthy periods and appeared to be in the ascendancy. That has to be applauded given how bobbly the pitch was. There was still the obvious danger of getting caught on the break and being in pessimistic mode I feared we would now be at our most vulnerable.

It would be wrong to deny that Northampton had further chances but those we were creating were better than theirs even if not quite as gilt edged as those they’d squandered kicking towards us. By now I thought John Mousinho was looking quite commanding at the back, winning lots of high balls when Northampton launched it forward.

Our improvement took on an additional boost when we made a double substitution in the 73rd minute. Off went the ineffectual Obika. Off went Henry. What? Well as we played even better after the change that decision has to be admired. On came Wes Thomas and Gino Van Kessel. The former wasn’t great but brought more control and the ball stuck a bit more than we’d seen previously and it was he who glanced the post with a header after good build up play. It’s GVK who provided the noticeable spark though. For his supposed valuation he should be more than an impact sub in L1 but if that’s the best we’re going to get from him then I’ll go with that. Suddenly we had physical presence up top and strong running. That makes such a difference. He can’t be swatted away with disdain.

As the clock ticked down the game became stretched, and credit to both teams for trying to win it. It was as if two very average boxers had given their all and were trying to summon something from deep down to win the extra points and leave their rivals with nothing. That neither side was able to do so was fitting as sharing the spoils was a fair outcome. Poor / very poor finishing had won out.

I think this was a very big draw for us. If we’d been beaten, Northampton would have been just one point behind us, albeit having played one game more. That the gap is still four points provides some slight relief but we are still in a far from comfortable position.

If bottom club Rochdale win their five games in hand on Northampton they’ll go above the Cobblers. They won’t though but only losing by a single goal at Wigan on Saturday shows they can’t be written off.

Second bottom Bury are 13 points behind us but beat Gillingham. That’s a lot to make up but winning helps. We’ve won one of our last seven league games. Bury have lost one of their last seven. Chris Maguire has settled into the role of unused sub.

The Fleetwood / MK Dons draw was a handy outcome with both teams below us in the table and the former visiting next Saturday. If they beat us they’ll be just two behind. Need I go on to emphasise how close we are to very perilous territory?

We’re six points above the drop zone but with Oldham having only played 33 I’ll award them a pretend point and say it could easily be just five.

At times like this I turn to Oddschecker in my search for comfort and reassurance. Best relegation odds are:

Bury 1/10

MK Dons 1/4

Rochdale 8/15

Northampton 11/10

Fleetwood 2/1

Oldham 5/2

Walsall 8/1

Oxford 8/1

Then there’s a big jump to Donny at 18/1 which is a bit mad because we’ve got the same number of points as them and a game in hand. Blackpool also have 42 points from 34 games yet are 20/1.

I suppose it is direction of travel and that’s something we need to reverse pdq.


It’s chances, NTFC. Easy chances. Loads of them.