Wilder leads U's out of the wilderness
Reasons to be cheerful for everyone connected with Oxford United:
One: last season’s Wembley win over York meant promotion back to the Football League after four years away.
Two: now that they are there, there is confidence that the forthcoming campaign will be a positive one.
Three, and perhaps most importantly: success on the field has contributed towards increasing stability off it.
Home sweet home
There are a few striking aspects about Oxford’s Kassam Stadium. The name, for one. Former owner Firoz Kassam is long gone, but his name remains. In the past, Oxford fans have been known to re-christen their home by adding strategically-placed dollops of paint to road signs.
The lack of advertising around the ground is also noticeable. This is because Kassam pockets half of all advertising revenue placed inside the structure that bears his name.
The club have responded to this problem by keeping visual advertisements to a minimum and instead inviting companies to sponsor various announcements made over the public address system.
Oh, and there are only three stands. Behind one goal, there is instead a fence containing some advertising – presumably because this area garners the maximum income within the ground and makes the 50% income worthwhile.
It all sounds a bit haphazard, but the future appears bright for the Yellows.
As things stand, Kassam still owns the stadium and, in addition to some small advertising revenue, makes nearly half a million pounds per year from the club in rent. But current owner Ian Lenagan recently stated that his bid to buy the stadium had reached the halfway stage. This planned purchase would be a real landmark in the history of Oxford United Football Club.
Chairman Kelvin Thomas is also positive. At a recent AGM involving Oxford supporters, Thomas listed the positive financial factors that are helping the club’s cause. These obviously included promotion, and the £250,000 earned through winning at Wembley, but also an estimated £600,000 windfall as a result of a sell-in clause attached to former midfielder Dean Whitehead’s move from Sunderland to Stoke City.
What is most reassuring for Oxford fans, particularly in the current climate of heavy HM Revenue and Customs involvement in the affairs of football clubs, is the news that the club has no debt towards HMRC. There was one, but it has been paid off and now Lenagan is focusing firmly on the acquisition of the stadium as an integral part of securing the club’s long-term future.
On the field, manager Chris Wilder has assembled an impressive squad at lower league level. The playing staff are spearheaded by leaders both in defence and attack.
Up front, captain James Constable scored 26 goals last season as Oxford gained promotion to League Two. At the back, central defender Mark Creighton is a popular figure among fans and is well-suited to the physical demands of life in the lower leagues.
Oxford will also rely on the darting runs and counter-attacking potential of diminutive midfield men Alfie Potter and Sam Deering. Potter scored the clinching third goal in May’s Conference play-off triumph over York City and is most well-known for having scored at Anfield while on loan at Havant and Waterlooville.
Clubs promoted from the Conference have performed well in League Two in recent years, particularly the likes of Dagenham and Redbridge and Exeter City. Both the Daggers and the Grecians now sit in League One alongside big names such as Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton, having quickly mastered fourth-tier football.
For upwardly-mobile Oxford United, whose star striker Constable has confidently targeted twenty goals this season, another promotion is not out of the question.