Friday, August 27, 2010


Saviour of the Fallen, Protector of the Weak, Friend of the Tall Ones, Keeper of the Peace

An article in today's Oxford Mail gives a reasonably interesting insight into the policing of Oxford United games. There's precious little by way of revelation, so as a piece of investigative journalism or even the sensationalist tabloid writing that the Mail seems to encourage these days, it's somewhat lacking.

The interesting factual snippet was that "Eleven Oxford United fans are banned from games for causing trouble, and 13 others are on bail for other football-related offences." Whether or not that constitutes a low or high number for a club of United's stature is sadly not revealed, nor is the nature of the alleged offences for which these people have been banned or bailed. In fact, the article seems to go out of its way to avoid any such analysis, which is a shame as it makes an interesting premise into nothing more than a policeman's bland diary.

This lack of depth is illustrated perfectly in the following paragraph: "Problems include racist chanting, throwing objects on the pitch, swearing and abusing stewards, and in extreme occasions, fights and pitch invasions." The implication is that these are problems faced by police officers at United fixtures, although as a season-ticket holder of many years and a reasonably regular attender of away games I've not heard any racist chanting for probably 15 years or more (although I have heard a lot of chanting that is offensive, and a lot of individual racist remarks). It's true that at Oxford there has long been a problem with throwing objects on the pitch, usually coins and almost always (but not exclusively) at away games. However, this statement by the reporter (Emily Allen isn't even quoting one of her interviewees at this juncture) is completely devoid of analysis: how prevalent are these problems, how many people have been arrested, charged, bailed, or banned for these offences, and is the trend towards these issues increasing or decreasing?

The two quotes at the end of the piece from supporters interviewed at the Wycombe Wanderers game, including one from a self-confessed trouble maker, are a small step in the direction of redressing the balance in favour of some objectivity, but in fact they don't really add anything to the main thrust of the article; if anything, they increase its shallowness. (Is it possible to increase shallowness? Maybe decreasing depth is the correct metaphor.) All in all, I'm really not sure why I bothered blogging about this, except maybe in the hope that someone will take up the gauntlet and write something that's actually worth reading about the subject. Breath will not be held.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Secretive agents


The Football League has published how much each League club paid to agents last season (so obviously Oxford's figures aren't included, although United apparently didn't pay anything to agents in the period covered) as part of its annual reporting of such figures, ostensibly in a bid to be more transparent. The report (PDF) shows an increase of £3.9 million in the last year, up to £12.7 million.

When the figures are broken down, they show that agents received fees in 16.6 per cent (369) of the 2,392 player transactions that took place, with just 14 of the 72 clubs not paying fees to an agent, and every club in the Championship forking out at some point or another.

So, what do these figures really mean? First, they show that although the use of agents is increasing, they are not as prevalent as many people seem to believe. Second, perhaps obviously, clubs use agents more the higher in the Pyramid they are. Third, it would appear that, although not exclusively, the clubs that achieved most success spent most on agents fees.

Agents are often portrayed as evil money-grabbing middle-men who add little value in exchange for their 10 per cent. For many players, though, they are as essential to looking after their interests as estate agents are to most house-buyers. Agents are professional negotiators, and it's in their own interest to get the best deal that they can for their clients. Clubs may not like agents particularly, but that's because they help redress the balance of power towards the players. There is possibly an argument that the balance of power has swayed too far in favour of the agents, rather than their clients, but that wouldn't appear to have been proven by these most recent figures, with over 80 per cent of transfers still not requiring agents' intervention.

Agents are becoming more common in many walks of life (for example, most publishers will not now accept manuscripts from authors unless they have been submitted by an agent) but there still appears to be a lot of non-agent space in footballing transfers. Some football managers claim that they refuse to deal with agents, but one would have to ask why a player would trust such a manager; it would be a bit like a workplace manager refusing to negotiate with a union representative, when that rep is trying to help the workers. Agents may not be quite such beneficent figures, and clearly their main motivation has to be their cut of any deal, but if they help counterbalance unscrupulous managers then their presence has to be more good than bad.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010


First taste of competitive football

Before the start of the 1894-95 season, Headington played a couple of friendlies, both against teams they were due to face in the forthcoming City Junior League competition. On 6 October Headington played against St Peter-le-Bailey, a side representing the church on New Inn Hall Street and which is now the chapel of St Peter's College. According to the report, reproduced below, Headington were unable to field a full side and, unsurprisingly, lost 2-0.

If you have images disabled, the text reads:

ST. PETER-LE-BAILEY v. HEADINGTON.- The Oxonians secured a victory on Saturday last by two goals to nil over the Headingtonians, who were not fully represented.

The following week Headington played at Cowley St John, suffering a demoralising 7-0 defeat, despite the Headington goalie receiving special plaudits for his performance. The Jackson's Oxford Journal report is fairly damning (apologies for the green highlighting):

It reads:
COWLEY ST. JOHN v. HEADINGTON.- Played at Cowley on Saturday, and ended in a win for the Saints by seven goals to nil. The Headington goal-keeper played a good game for his side, and saved them from further loss. The Saints' goal was never in jeopardy, and only one goal kick was taken.

The City Junior League was due to commence the following week, on 21 October 1894, but as the Jackson's Oxford Journal explains, Headington weren't involved:

The relevant passage reads:
To-morrow the City Junior competition commences; we find the whole of the Clubs, excepting Headington, who have a bye, owing to an odd number of Clubs having entered, are engaged...
Interestingly, the age-old problem of finding enough match officials was evident 116 years ago, much as it remains today.

In fact, Headington had to wait until 17 November before they saw their first competitive action. The opponents were Clarendon Press and the venue was supposed to have been at their ground. Clarendon Press is the former name of Oxford University Press, founded in 1672 and based in Jericho, and it remains an imprint name of the OUP. However, because the Press's ground in Osney was flooded, the game was switched to Headington's ground at Wootten's Field, which formed part of the Headington Manor estate and which has now been built over by Stephen Road. Sadly, our lads' introduction to competitive football wasn't a happy one, as they went down 4-0. Despite the visitors having most of the possession and all of the chances, the score remained 0-0 at half-time, but after the break Headington conceded a goal. They came back into the game, but conceded three more. Headington's founder, Dr Hitchings, was singled out for special mention as one of the pick of the home side.

One game in and bottom of the league!

Headington's next game was the following week, and was another dismal home defeat, this time to St Barnabas, also from Jericho. The church side won 6-0,  but it appears not to have been recorded as a league game:

This can be seen in the next league table, two weeks later, when Jackson's Oxford Journal reports Headington's first competitive victory:

The report reads:
HEADINGTON v. WANDERERS 2ND.- This League match was played at Osney on Saturday last, resulting in a win for Headington by two goals to one.

Note that the updated table doesn't include College Servants' 2nd. This is because they had scratched their opening two games and then withdrew from the competition.

In our next history post we'll complete this first season and then look further ahead.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010


The Football League rules

In our last post we looked at some new rules introduced by the FA. Well, when it comes to rule-making, the Football League are never far behind.

These new rules are, on the face of it, common sense, and nothing to get too excited about. The rules that tighten up the owners and directors tests have long been required, as have those concerning financial reporting. The prohibition on third-party ownership of players should, hopefully, eliminate the farcical situation that occurred a few seasons ago when Westam acquired the services of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, when they were effectively owned by Media Sports Investments must not happen again. And we can't really comment on the new standard player contract because we don't know anything about it.

What does concern us, though, is that for all the good intentions behind the changes, the track record of the Football League in enforcing its existing rules, certainly in respect of the owners and directors tests, is pretty poor. There remain in the game far too many owners who quite clearly don't have the best interest of their club at heart. Property developers who have their eyes on the land that their club's stadium is built on, or local businessmen whose main concern is to satisfy their ego without having the necessary funds to maintain the club. If the new rules are accompanied by a new inclination to enforce them then there can be no complaints; if, however, there is no change to the League's attitude then it will remain as so much puff.

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