A determined man who led from the front

Chris Wilder celebrates Oxford United’s 2-1 win over Swindon at the County Ground

Chris Wilder celebrates Oxford United’s 2-1 win over Swindon at the County Ground

First published in Sport
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Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Sports Editor. Call me on 01865 425451

By the end, opinion was divided. But whatever you thought of Chris Wilder, every true Oxford United fan will thank him for what he achieved as manager.

His slide down the Wembley touchline as the U’s secured promotion back into the Football League, plus three successive wins over Swindon Town – including a first league double over the Robins for 40 years – are memories that will long be etched in the minds of U’s supporters.

But while both are high on my list, my most defining incident of his reign came on a university training ground in Scotland.

Having just fallen short of making the Conference play-offs in his first six months in charge after a remarkable surge up the table, Wilder was rebuilding his squad in the close season.

I was lucky enough to be with the team as they toured Scotland in the summer of 2009.

Many new faces were getting their first taste of life with Oxford, and how their manager worked.

The players were getting ready, and their manager was right in the middle as banter flew – one player getting grief for a haircut, another for his choice of coloured footwear, and one more for his antics 24 hours earlier.

Boots were tied, and as the players made their way towards the pitch, the mood changed – most notably that of the manager. The fun and games ended and things became serious.

A simple drill was set up, which saw midfielders play one-twos, before releasing a winger who would cross for a striker to make a run and try to beat his defender to score.

The first attempt went badly wrong, so the manager explained again what was expected.

A second try was more successful, although not ending with a goal, but then followed a number of failed routines which saw frustration levels rise.

It all proved too much as United’s boss let out an almighty roar and picked up a nearby football which he promptly volleyed 60 yards away.

“It’s not ******* good enough,” he barked. “It’s ******* simple. Pass, pass, cross, score. You’re professional footballers, so ******* do it right. No excuses.”

The outburst clearly surprised many, but it worked.

The players soon knew the levels that were demanded of them on the pitch and others found out, to their cost, what happened if these standards were not kept.

When Wilder was appointed United manager on a cold Sunday morning in 2008, the club was on its knees.

On the brink of administration and sliding down the Blue Square Premier table, the U’s were in a perilous state both on and off the field.

A points deduction was hanging over them after playing the unregistered Eddie Hutchinson and the future looked grim.

But together with chairman Kelvin Thomas, the fortunes were soon to change.

Wilder installed a new confidence in the players, and with a number of new recruits, the U’s charged up the table.

A final-day defeat at home to Northwich saw United just miss out on the play-offs, but hopes were high that the foundations were in place to win promotion 12 months later.

A flying start to the 2009/10 season saw Wilder’s men surge clear at the top of the table.

Not helped by a host of postponements over Christmas, Stevenage clawed the gap back, and when United hit a poor run of form, Graham Westley’s side took over at the top.

Many feel United’s manager brought in too many new faces at a critical time of the season, causing unrest in the Oxford camp.

But the U’s regrouped, and a good end to the season saw them go into the play-offs on a high.

A 3-1 aggregate win over Rushden took United to Wembley, where goals from Matt Green, James Constable and Alfie Potter saw them beat York 3-1 to return to the Football League in front of more than 33,000 Oxford fans.

Potter’s clinching goal was celebrated by Wilder skidding down the touchline on his rear.

Back in the Football League after a four-year absence, it was a steady first season for United.

After a promising start, a poor run followed which saw Wilder come under pressure from a section of fans shortly after signing a new three-year deal.

However, a shock victory at leaders Chesterfield turned their season around.

Six victories from seven games cemented a mid-table place, which is where they were to stay.

Oxford Mail:

Chris Wilder gestures to Oxford’s fans after his side’s draw at Bristol Rovers in 2012

The 2011/12 season is one no Oxford United fan – or Paolo Di Canio – will forget in a hurry.

The fifth match of the campaign saw the U’s travel to arch rivals Swindon Town, where they had not won for 38 years.

The build-up to the match was dominated by Robins boss Di Canio branding U’s striker James Constable a Swindon fan.

But Constable had the last laugh, scoring twice in a famous 2-1 victory.

The U’s were well-placed after three months of the season, but suffered a run of defeats which derailed their promotion bid.

United accepted a bid from Swindon for Constable in January, but the player turned down the chance to talk to Di Canio.

When the Robins came to town for the rematch in March, Constable was sent off after ten minutes, but the ten-man U’s defied the odds to win 2-0.

It proved one of the rare highlights of a disappointing end to the season, which was blighted by injuries.

United sought to fill the void with a number of loan signings, but their season petered out and they missed out on the play-offs.

Wilder’s time at United changed when his greatest ally, chairman Kelvin Thomas, left the club in July 2012.

The relationship between chairman and manager is the single most important factor in a successful football club and the Thomas-Wilder partnership transformed the club, of that there is no doubt.

It was argued by some fans that their relationship was so strong that Wilder’s job was safe, which was not a good thing.

But when you have a chairman and manager working in unison, success can be achieved.

When that relationship breaks down, there is no return. This was to prove critical 18 months later.

A flying start to the 2012/13 season, with new chairman Ian Lenagan at the helm, saw the U’s in the leading pack, but more injuries hit their bid.

The manager was backed by Lenagan at the end of September, but indifferent form followed as United were always playing catch-up for a play-off place.

Many expected the season to be Wilder’s last, but he was reappointed as manager on a one-year deal in April.

It was a move that seemed to divide United fans, especially with home crowds dwindling – a fact many put down to the manager.

A sensational start to the campaign, the highlight of which was a 4-1 opening-day win at Portsmouth, saw United stake an early claim for promotion.

Oxford Mail:

In a Wembley wonderland. From left: Mickey Lewis, Alan Hodgkinson, Andy Melville, Kelvin Thomas and Chris Wilder

Two months later, with the U’s topping the table, Pompey were looking for a new manager and asked for permission to speak to Wilder.

With Lenagan unwilling to offer his manager a new contract so early in the season, the U’s boss spoke to the south coast side, but did not get the job as Richie Barker was handed the hot-seat.

It was clearly evident that the lack of a long-term deal was unsettling United’s boss as he became linked to several other jobs.

On the pitch though, things were still on track, with United retaining a top-three place until a four-game winless streak saw them drop to seventh.

However, the relationship between Wilder and Lenagan became more and more strained.

The manager wanted job security, the chairman wanted to see if he would bring success. It was a stand-off which could not be resolved.

The farce after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Torquay did not show either party in a good light.

Thankfully, both worked quickly to save face, and the news that Wilder has been handed a three-and-a-half year deal with Northampton shows his stature in the game.

Both parties will now move on with their respective challenges – Wilder battling relegation and Lenagan charged with finding a manager to complete the job at Oxford.

Comments (8)

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7:20am Tue 28 Jan 14

adlibber says...

Awful piece of journalism - reads like it's written by an English GCSE student who has simply cut and paste fans comments on this forum. Wilder wasn't a god he did good things but he also failed to move forward. In his 5 years at the club. Ask yourself how many times were we top of the table and how how many times did we finish there at end of the season?

Wilder was an ok manager if he was an extraordinary one clubs from higher leagues would have claimed him - instead he's gone to the bottom club in our division. Stop kidding yourself. He deserves credit for reclaiming our league status but not for the 3 years of disappointment after that glorious Wembley day.
Awful piece of journalism - reads like it's written by an English GCSE student who has simply cut and paste fans comments on this forum. Wilder wasn't a god he did good things but he also failed to move forward. In his 5 years at the club. Ask yourself how many times were we top of the table and how how many times did we finish there at end of the season? Wilder was an ok manager if he was an extraordinary one clubs from higher leagues would have claimed him - instead he's gone to the bottom club in our division. Stop kidding yourself. He deserves credit for reclaiming our league status but not for the 3 years of disappointment after that glorious Wembley day. adlibber
  • Score: -14

7:59am Tue 28 Jan 14

oldun says...

Wilder 6 or 7 out of 10 .

Much better than most of the crowd of generally awful managers we have suffered since the mid 90s.

Get a better one, please IL
Wilder 6 or 7 out of 10 . Much better than most of the crowd of generally awful managers we have suffered since the mid 90s. Get a better one, please IL oldun
  • Score: 4

1:19pm Tue 28 Jan 14

OX4-OUFC says...

adlibber wrote:
Awful piece of journalism - reads like it's written by an English GCSE student who has simply cut and paste fans comments on this forum. Wilder wasn't a god he did good things but he also failed to move forward. In his 5 years at the club. Ask yourself how many times were we top of the table and how how many times did we finish there at end of the season?

Wilder was an ok manager if he was an extraordinary one clubs from higher leagues would have claimed him - instead he's gone to the bottom club in our division. Stop kidding yourself. He deserves credit for reclaiming our league status but not for the 3 years of disappointment after that glorious Wembley day.
Pot Calling the Kettle Black or what ! Personally I've enjoyed lots of wins and great days home and away in the last few years and of course not enjoyed the losses but there have been and will always be other good teams in the leagues that we are competing in. That's what keeps lower league football more interesting and less predictable than the stinking rich Premier League.
Disappointment levels depend on your own expectation levels and given a reality check even you could not be so disappointed all the time. Any ideas on who the new manager should be then ?
[quote][p][bold]adlibber[/bold] wrote: Awful piece of journalism - reads like it's written by an English GCSE student who has simply cut and paste fans comments on this forum. Wilder wasn't a god he did good things but he also failed to move forward. In his 5 years at the club. Ask yourself how many times were we top of the table and how how many times did we finish there at end of the season? Wilder was an ok manager if he was an extraordinary one clubs from higher leagues would have claimed him - instead he's gone to the bottom club in our division. Stop kidding yourself. He deserves credit for reclaiming our league status but not for the 3 years of disappointment after that glorious Wembley day.[/p][/quote]Pot Calling the Kettle Black or what ! Personally I've enjoyed lots of wins and great days home and away in the last few years and of course not enjoyed the losses but there have been and will always be other good teams in the leagues that we are competing in. That's what keeps lower league football more interesting and less predictable than the stinking rich Premier League. Disappointment levels depend on your own expectation levels and given a reality check even you could not be so disappointed all the time. Any ideas on who the new manager should be then ? OX4-OUFC
  • Score: 4

2:24pm Tue 28 Jan 14

Sid Snakey says...

Good article, covering the key points of Wilder's tenure.

Not surprised to see the Muppets don't like it, as it doesn't paint Wilder as an inept moron incapable of tying his own shoelaces, let alone managing a football club.

From here the minimum we now expect from the new manager is automatic promotion with amazing home performances and keeping the away record intact, otherwise Muppets Out!!!
Good article, covering the key points of Wilder's tenure. Not surprised to see the Muppets don't like it, as it doesn't paint Wilder as an inept moron incapable of tying his own shoelaces, let alone managing a football club. From here the minimum we now expect from the new manager is automatic promotion with amazing home performances and keeping the away record intact, otherwise Muppets Out!!! Sid Snakey
  • Score: 0

4:09pm Tue 28 Jan 14

mattyi says...

This Guy doesnt know anything about football for the last two years CW applied for every job in football Get Jim Magilton in to get us promoted
This Guy doesnt know anything about football for the last two years CW applied for every job in football Get Jim Magilton in to get us promoted mattyi
  • Score: 2

6:46pm Tue 28 Jan 14

Taff Ewe says...

adlibber wrote:
Awful piece of journalism - reads like it's written by an English GCSE student who has simply cut and paste fans comments on this forum. Wilder wasn't a god he did good things but he also failed to move forward. In his 5 years at the club. Ask yourself how many times were we top of the table and how how many times did we finish there at end of the season?

Wilder was an ok manager if he was an extraordinary one clubs from higher leagues would have claimed him - instead he's gone to the bottom club in our division. Stop kidding yourself. He deserves credit for reclaiming our league status but not for the 3 years of disappointment after that glorious Wembley day.
It's the muppet show again. If Wilder had not come in then we may well still be in the conference. Why not just dig deep and admit that he was better than a lot of the trosh we have had. A man who wore his heart on his sleeve and gave us the first real happy memories for nearly 15 years. He also stabalised the club and our league position after a heartbreaking slide down the football pyramid. Apart from last year it was progressive.

No it was not spectacular, but it was quite a bit above average and I think that the journalist has every right to summarize the man's career like this. It was not so long ago that Kenny Jackett took over at Swansea and begun a journey that has taken them from the bottom of league 2 to European football. I remember thinking at the time that it was a terrible appointment.

Chris Wilder has put the foundations in for the future of OUFC and we should remember him fondly now and if we do go on to great success we should certainly remember the man who started it all.
[quote][p][bold]adlibber[/bold] wrote: Awful piece of journalism - reads like it's written by an English GCSE student who has simply cut and paste fans comments on this forum. Wilder wasn't a god he did good things but he also failed to move forward. In his 5 years at the club. Ask yourself how many times were we top of the table and how how many times did we finish there at end of the season? Wilder was an ok manager if he was an extraordinary one clubs from higher leagues would have claimed him - instead he's gone to the bottom club in our division. Stop kidding yourself. He deserves credit for reclaiming our league status but not for the 3 years of disappointment after that glorious Wembley day.[/p][/quote]It's the muppet show again. If Wilder had not come in then we may well still be in the conference. Why not just dig deep and admit that he was better than a lot of the trosh we have had. A man who wore his heart on his sleeve and gave us the first real happy memories for nearly 15 years. He also stabalised the club and our league position after a heartbreaking slide down the football pyramid. Apart from last year it was progressive. No it was not spectacular, but it was quite a bit above average and I think that the journalist has every right to summarize the man's career like this. It was not so long ago that Kenny Jackett took over at Swansea and begun a journey that has taken them from the bottom of league 2 to European football. I remember thinking at the time that it was a terrible appointment. Chris Wilder has put the foundations in for the future of OUFC and we should remember him fondly now and if we do go on to great success we should certainly remember the man who started it all. Taff Ewe
  • Score: 1

12:03am Wed 29 Jan 14

colinharry says...

Really can't understand the nasty comments directed at CW,ok he wasn't the greatest but he sure was better that Tabot,Rix Atkins...........peo
ple have short memories.....good luck to the bloke ,I for one ill remember him for what he achieved for this club in difficult times.
Really can't understand the nasty comments directed at CW,ok he wasn't the greatest but he sure was better that Tabot,Rix Atkins...........peo ple have short memories.....good luck to the bloke ,I for one ill remember him for what he achieved for this club in difficult times. colinharry
  • Score: 0

11:31am Wed 29 Jan 14

banksy0209 says...

Brilliant read. Sums up Wilders reign and exit in a very balanced piece of writing stripping away the irrational emotions carried with a fans viewpoint.

Good work Mr Edwards
Brilliant read. Sums up Wilders reign and exit in a very balanced piece of writing stripping away the irrational emotions carried with a fans viewpoint. Good work Mr Edwards banksy0209
  • Score: -2

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