It has certainly been a memorable season, if not necessarily a successful one. The end of the season, whether successful or not, is always a time to reflect on the events of the previous 12 months and we're now in full swing here on TBFUTH. We asked for your votes and we got them, so here are the people and the events that defined the 2011/12 season, as voted for by you.
Player of the Season
Winner: Ryan Clarke
Percentage of Vote: 50%
Ryan Clarke is the winner of this year's TBFUTH Player of the Season Award with 50% of the vote; confirmation, if any were needed, of his continued popularity with the fans. When added to his Players' Player of the Year award from the club, it demonstrates what a fantastic season he has had once again. An almost ever-present between the sticks for three years now, Clarke has frequently been the difference between victory and defeat, pulling off a host of incredible saves at important times. And that's without even mentioning his unbelievable penalty record. The position of goalkeeper is one of the most unappreciated, but also one of the most important positions on the field – something we were painfully reminded of at the end of this season with Clarke's injury. To have such a solid and reliable keeper in the squad is a major advantage and it is great to see that Oxford fans do not take this fact for granted.
Goal of the Season
Winner: Peter Leven v Port Vale (29/10/11)
Percentage of Vote: 89%
There was only ever going to be one winner of this category. With almost 90% of the vote, Peter Leven's glorious strike from the half-way line is the runaway winner of our TBFUTH Goal of the Season Award. This isn't the first award Leven's piece of genius has been nominated for, making it onto the shortlist of the Football League's Goal of the Year competition. Named by many as one of the greatest goals ever scored by an Oxford United player, this goal was nigh on perfect in every way. It came at the perfect time, just two minutes after Vale had pulled level, their fans attempting to rush onto our pitch while celebrating. Aesthetically, it was perfect, hanging in the air for what felt like an eternity, looking destined to sail over the bar before slowly – ever so slowly – dropping into the net. And it was celebrated perfectly, sparking pandemonium in the stands from fans who couldn't quite believe what they had just seen. In fact, it was so perfect, it's worth watching again.
Most Inspired Signing
Winner: Andy Whing
Percentage of Vote: 65%
“What people will find is that I never give up”. Those were the words of Andy Whing when he signed for the club last summer, and his efforts this season have proven them to be correct. We have already waxed lyrical about Whing's gritty performances this season, but of course it goes without saying that he has done a fantastic job this season in rather difficult circumstances, and his hard-hitting displays in the middle of the park have often been the only thing that has prevented us from being totally overwhelmed in midfield. And it is to Chris Wilder's credit that he recognised that we needed a player to fill this role. Not only that, but to pluck him from a higher-placed club in Leyton Orient (who had already offered him a contract extension) was excellent work in the transfer market. The combination of these two factors make the signing of Andy Whing our TBFUTH Most Inspired Signing Award, with 65% of the vote.
Winner: Deane Smalley
Percentage of Vote: 70%
While we celebrate the good we should also acknowledge the bad, and one particularly poor bit of business has hung over Chris Wilder's head all season. Smalley's signing was heralded as a major coup for the club, who beat off competition from League Two champions Chesterfield for his signature – where he had impressed the season before. However, his good form at Chesterfield served only to disguise what had been an otherwise mediocre career with a meagre scoring record. Upon his arrival he was announced as the player to score the extra 'ten or 15 goals' that would be required to win us promotion. He managed two (and only one of these came in the league), before being shipped off on loan to Bradford, where he also failed to make an impression. Two other factors have also exacerbated things: first is that we paid a fee for Smalley, and second is that he'll be here (quite probably drawing a large wage) for another year. We can only hope that next season, when the weight of expectation will be less heavy on his shoulders, Smalley will demonstrate the quality that he surely has somewhere in there. Until then, however, he will have the dubious honour of winning the TBFUTH Worst Signing Award, with 70% of the vote.
Winner: Robbie Hall
Percentage of Vote: 72%
Of all the many loan players to pull on the yellow shirt this season (and there have been plenty), one clearly stood out above the rest: Aylesbury-born Rob Hall. Those who had questioned the wisdom of signing an untried youngster who had yet to play a senior game of football were silenced early on, as Hall scored on his debut to bring victory in Dagenham. Over the following three months, he firmly established himself as a fan favourite (no mean feat for a loanee) with his standout performances, as well as his evident passion and dedication (again, uncommon for a loanee). Alas, as with all good things his loan spell had to come to an end and after he returned to West Ham he left a big hole behind him and a team that had come to rely on the teenager's magic feet. Undoubtedly Hall will have a big career ahead of him and he has started with style, as TBFUTH Best Loanee Award winner.
Winner: Danny Philliskirk
Percentage of Vote: 43%
This season has seen a string of loan players come through the doors of the Kassam Stadium, and while some of those have been successful, others have proven to be total disasters. Chief among that latter category is Danny Philliskirk, who arrived at the club in October, made a grand total of four appearances (two of which were from the bench) and appearing to put in minimal effort during his brief stay. He was dropped after the appalling display away at Crawley, a match in which he made no positive contribution and was hauled off after half an hour. The most frustrating aspect was that we'd seen it all before. Philliskirk had already had a brief and unimpressive spell at Oxford last season, making just one appearance before being shut out of the side and sent back to his parent club. So unnecessary and such a waste, and it is for those reasons that Danny Philliskirk receives the TBFUTH Worst Loanee Award, beating off stiff competition from the unpopular Mehdi Kerrouche.
Best Team Performance
Winner: Swindon Home (03/03/12)
Percentage of Vote: 88%
After losing James Constable with just ten minutes on the clock no one thought we were going to win this one. Swindon arrived at the Kassam unbeaten in 2012, on a run of 10 wins on the bounce and eager for revenge. Sometimes, however, football is capable of producing some fantastic surprises. United took the lead after 16 minutes when Asa Hall latched onto a cross and then doubled it moments after when Oli Johnson got on the end of a ball from Lee Holmes. Even 2-0 up at half time, few allowed themselves to believe that we would be able to hold them off for another 45 minutes. However, every Swindon attack was met with dogged resistance as the yellows defended like the Alamo and, just as they had at Swindon earlier in the season, somehow kept the ball from the net. It was a determined performance, with the players holding their nerve despite the immense pressure on them. Given the lethargic – almost apathetic – ending to the season, the steely determination shown that day now seems to be held in even higher regard, winning our TBFUTH Best Team Performance Award with a remarkable 88% of the vote.
Worst Team Performance
Winner: Morecambe Home (31/03/12)
Percentage of Vote: 52%
Given subsequent events, the Morecambe game was the beginning of the end of our playoff hopes. However, at the time it was a surprisingly poor performance at a bad time in the season. Just a poor performance, nothing to worry about, everyone has those days once in a while. Except, of course, that this match would go on to set the tone for that disastrous run of results that saw us take a meagre three points from a possible 21 to end the season out of the playoffs in ninth position. The match did not start well, and Morecambe took the lead after just three minutes when the Oxford defence failed to deal with a simple ball into the box. An equaliser from Scott Rendell just minutes later appeared to set things back on track, but United never got going, appearing tediously slow and lethargic and it soon became apparent that we were not going to find a winning goal. To make matters worse, Morecambe retook the lead on 74 minutes and that was it: game over. The performance itself was bad enough, but the fact that it heralded further poor performances which ultimately cost us a shot at promotion earn this dreadful display our TBFUTH Worst Team Performance Award.
Winner: The final whistle at home to Swindon
Percentage of Vote: 59%
The TBFUTH Best Moment Award was always something of a foregone conclusion. It was a magical moment and ensured that this season will be remembered fondly despite the bad ending. When the referee finally called time on the A420 derby, it was met with initial relief, quickly being replaced by jubilation as it sunk in that we had finally done the double over Swindon for the first time in 38 years. Supporters who had waited their entire lives to witness this finally had a reason to gloat to Swindon-supporting friends, neighbours and work colleagues. And that it was achieved in such dramatic circumstances only heightened those feelings, that many Swindon fans had already begun crowing of their victory ahead of the match made it all the sweeter when that final whistle blew.
Winner: Losing our playoff place after Plymouth
Percentage of Vote: 52%
From the start of the season in August right until the final kick in May the entire season is focused towards one goal. For it to then slip away with just two weeks remaining is soul-destroying and the obvious choice for our TBFUTH Worst Moment Award. We travelled to Home Park on a poor run of form, but still clinging onto that final playoff place on goal difference. Though Plymouth had struggled all season, they had begun to pull themselves away from danger and could secure their safety in this match. They did this with a 1-1 draw and as the Plymouth fans celebrated their survival on the pitch, the news from around the country began to filter in. We were out of the playoffs, and with just two matches to go against Southend and Port Vale, and with Crewe building up a real head of steam, our fate was no longer in our hands and our playoff aspirations were slipping away.
Clown of the Season
Winner: Paolo Di Canio
Percentage of Vote: 66%
Where to begin with this one. Firstly, congratulations to Paolo Di Canio: you've won the TBFUTH Clown of the Season Award. No one involved with that lot up the road was ever going to be popular in Oxford, but Di Canio has become a particularly reviled figure and the reasons are numerous. Perhaps it was the sheer desperation of the move, a cry for media attention from a club that had been relegated with the faintest of whimpers. Then there was the ensuing media circus that followed his arrival, with national media outlets queuing up to sing the man's praises before his team has even kicked a ball, not to mention Di Canio's own frequent and barely coherent nonsensical soundbites. Di Canio's antics surrounding our trip to the County Ground added further fuel to the flame, one minute comparing the match to the Word Cup final, then accusing Constable of being a Swindon fan, before being embarrassingly forced to eat his words after the match. The poor grace with which he accepted his defeat – being sent to the stands, then allegedly making cut-throat gestures at the Oxford directors, and then 'promising' revenge – have only emphasised his pantomime villain reputation. And that's barely scratching the surface; we haven't even mentioned his well-publicised fascism and alleged racism yet.
Best Opposition Goal
Winner: Ryan Hall, Southend (05/11/11)
Percentage of Vote: 41%
Having absolutely dominated the match away at Southend, it was so disappointing to come away with nothing. However, if we had to lose, it was at least to a stunning goal. Southend won the ball in midfield, which was then played forward to Ryan Hall, who found himself in acres of space 25 yards from goal. He then unleashed an incredible strike with the outside of his boot which curled past the helpless Clarke and into the back of the net. We have unfortunately witnessed quite a few wondergoals go against us, but this was the deserving winner of our TBFUTH Best Opposition Goal Award.