Oxford United's 12th man repays fans with wonder goal
By Greig Box Turnbull
For as long as anyone can remember footy fans have been known as the 12th man.
The vocal backing that encourages their team during every game, come rain or shine, up and down the country through thick and thin.
But at one club the fans contribution has now been recognised by officially making them the 12th man.
A quick look at the team sheet on the back of the matchday programme at Oxford United shows the fans listed at number 12 after the club retired the shirt in their honour.
And the influence the fans have was underlined recently - when money supporters raised paid the transfer fee for a player.
Set up by a loyal band of followers the '12th Man Fund' was launched to generate £10,000 to hand to manager Chris Wilder to spend on transfers or loan player salaries in the January window.
Every penny counts at Oxford and the supporters decided a special transfer fund would give the club an edge in it's battle to win promotion.
The fund took off and £5,000 was raised within months - allowing Wilder to snap up striker Jamie Cook from Crawley Town in a ground-breaking move.
Cook repaid his £5,000 fee in spades by scoring a screamer against Luton Town in the Blue Square Premier's clash of the titans earlier this month.
And the signing of Cook couldn't have been better for Oxford fans.
The 30-year-old is Oxford born and bred and stood on the terraces of the London Road stand at United's old and much loved Manor Ground.
Originally a trainee with The U's Cook made 77 appearances and scored seven goals before moving on nine seasons ago.
"Oxford is my club," said Cook.
"I grew up watching them from the London Road, obviously played for them for a few years, and was gutted when I had to leave.
"It's always been the first result I have looked for in the eight years since I left, and I was absolutely delighted to get the opportunity to come back and play for them again.
"I have improved as a player and I can't put into words how happy I am to be back.
"For the fans to put their hands in their pockets to get me here is absolutely brilliant, and I hope I can repay them."
Oxford boss Chris Wilder added: "The plan was to use the fund at Christmas, but we have managed to secure Jamie's signature for a small fee.
"It just shows what a together club we are.
"The fans have been fantastic from my point of view."
It's a refreshing change from the world of multi-million pound transfers in the promised land of the Premiership.
But just 20 years ago Oxford were in the dizzy heights of English football's top flight themselves in the old Division One.
The glory days may seem like a hazy memory to many Oxford fans who have certainly had their fair share of knocks in recent times.
They slid down the leagues under the ownership of former chairman Firoz Kassam leaving fans calling for his head.
As the club sat of the brink of relegation from the football league a consortium including Oxford legend Jim Smith took control of the yellows.
But they couldn't prevent the club dropping out of the league three years ago.
After adjusting to the stark realities of life in the conference the club has re-grouped.
It is united again and the fans who are turning up in great numbers believe they are back on the up.
And the 12th Man Fund is playing a vital part in the mission to earn promotion.
It is all about fans pulling together and a club recognising the role they have to play.
The impact of the fund has not been lost on the Blue Square Premier promotion hopefuls.
Chairman Kelvin Thomas said: "The signing couldn't have been a better one to show what the fans and the Twelfth Man movement can achieve."
Fans have put their hands in their pockets and given up their time to make the fund work.
It was kicked off in pre-season with fans buying raffle tickets to appear in the official team squad photo at the 12th Man.
The winner was a fan exiled in America who handed the winning ticket back - it was then auctioned off raising £620.
Since then the fund has snow balled with fans buying badges, t-shirts, and arranging race nights.
Fans have grouped together at the Priory pub next to the stadium to raise funds through guess the score competitions and other ventures.
One fan even brewed a beer to sell in his pub for punters to toast United's great start to the season and help boost the transfer kitty coffers.
Pub landlord and real-ale brewer Chris Meeson launched the 'Yellow Beer' last month.
He sells his brew at his pub, the Masons Arms, in Oxford, with all profits going into the fund.
Mr Meeson, said: "We're just really big Oxford fans and it's our way of helping the fund.
"My grandfather was chairman for 13 years and my father was a director for many years, so there’s definitely a family tie. I’m 42 and I’ve been watching since I was eight.
"I’ve seen the ups and the downs, although the high points seem a long time ago."
A spokesman for the 12th Man Fund told Mirror Football: "We set up the project to ring fence funds for the manager.
"The 12th Man Fund are delighted to have contributed to Jamie's signing.
"He is a talented player with local roots who will add additional flair and creativity to the squad.
"We'd like to thank all the Oxford United supporters who have contributed to the fund to date and who have made this signing possible.
"The 12th Man will continue to grow over the coming months and some exciting further projects are planned.
"We encourage fans to continue to raise funds so we can aid the club to sign players of a similar calibre in the future."
Watch this space for a special Mirror backed 12th Man Fund offer to be revealed soon.