James Constable is no stranger to Oxford United fans. He helped the club to promotion in 2010 and was leading goalscorer in each of his six seasons at the club. He left in 2014 with 106 goals to his name, just one short of the club record.
How impressed have you been with Oxford United this season?
For me this all started at the back end of last season, they just really sort of kicked on this season. I've been lucky enough to get back to a few games this season and see the turnaround in the place. The recruitment this season has been spot on and the players they have brought in have really improved the group. Unfortunately, the pandemic bought the season to an end and I think if they had continued, they would have gone on to achieve automatic promotion.
It's always difficult to know what to expect after that many months off and not being able to play. They obviously took off where they were prior to the break and have done brilliantly to carry on and make the Play-Off Final.
What do you make to Karl Robinson and the influence he has had on the club?
I came back at the end of last season for a talk and a lot of the fans were questioning whether he should be in charge at that point because they were on a bad run. I just remember at the time saying that he's a top manager, he's managed top clubs and he's done a fantastic job.
I said to stick by and back him because they were going through a tough time, they were in the bottom half of the table and everybody's expecting them to be challenging and it doesn't always work out like that. I think they had a few injuries and people missing from the team that would normally be playing.
I just said, ‘look, he's one of those managers that will get it right’, and he went on that season to turn it around and and get back up the table, then obviously this season to kick on and do what they've done and get such a great position now, is testament to his hard work, the staff and they players that they've got the football club.
How impressed have you been by Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers this season?
They again are very similar to Oxford in that they've been up and down this season but every time we played them when I was at Oxford, it was it was always a tough game. I think Gareth has been there for so many years and he knows the club inside out.
Again the recruitment side and and how they go about their business has to be credited. Bringing in Adebayo Akinfenwa, I think a lot of people sort of questioned whether that was a good move or not, and like I say he comes in and every time he plays or every time he is on the pitch he makes difficult. They've got competitors all over the park, but they've got the right balance and obviously it being a little bit of a derby as well makes it a little bit extra special.
Do you think there is a foundation to compete that has been instilled at the club, whether or not Oxford make that jump to the Championship?
I do yeah. From our time when we were there, we obviously got promoted in 2010, and think if you'd asked anyone 10 years on whether we'd be we'd be facing 90 minutes away from the Championship, I don't think anyone would have believed you.
The way the club's turned around just in that short amount of time is unbelievable and is testament really to everybody associated and the hard work they put in. I'm sure the players would be desperate to go out there and get that coveted Championship spot, which is obviously what everybody at the club, the fans and the players would love to see happen.
How big of an opportunity did you see Oxford being when you signed with the club?
It was a stage of my career where I was 23/24, so I was desperate to really lay down a marker and show what what I was capable of doing.
I knew I could go out and score goals, and I've done that through my career, but at that age, I wasn't a kid anymore. It was really important for me to go there and really prove what I was capable of doing.
Chris Wilder took over and I’d say the club's fortunes changed pretty much overnight, and we went on a fantastic run that season. But just to be part of that, and part of what what he was about and what his ideas were, I was desperate to sign for as long as I could to be a part of where the club was going.
Talk to us about Chris Wilder, he is now doing incredible things with Sheffield United in the Premier League but what was he like with Oxford in his he Conference?
I think when he first came we had heard of the name, I think he had come in from Halifax but we didn't really know too much what he was going to be about and how he was going to set us up, especially when you're in that position, you're sort of bottom half of the table you think is it going to be someone come and play long balls and all that.
We just didn't know what to expect, but he just came in and it was a real breath of fresh air and instantly, overnight, we got a feeling of what it was going to be like and everybody bought into that. It just completely changed and our attitudes and we went on a fantastic run that season. If it wasn't for the points deduction towards the end of the season, I’m pretty sure we would have made the Play-Offs that year and gone up.
Talk us through that 2009/10 season, you personally had a fantastic season, scoring 26 goals in 44 appearances but it ended with a fantastic Play-Off Final win against York City.
Well that was the aim from the first week of pre-season. We had meetings and we went away and that was our focus - promotion. We didn't really consider anything else.
We started fantastically well, got ourselves into a brilliant position around Christmas time, I think we managed to have three or four games that were called off and Stevenage managed to play their games and get their wins.
I think a 14-15 point gap between us and Stevenage was soon closed up and they overtook us, they were fantastic that year. Every time we won we would look at their result and we would see that they had won by a goal more and we had to settle for the Play-Offs in the end.
It was only recently that we had a 10-year reunion and we found out that that Chris [Wilder] and the Chairman spoke about playing a team that was going to play in the Final at Wembley, the last probably, I think, seven or eight games of that season.
Looking back I don’t think I’ve played in a team like that, that sort of character, that togetherness. We spent a lot of time together not just training, but matchdays and away from the club as well.
There was probably seven or eight of us living together in one house and we'd finish training and go do a bit shopping together, get some lunch etc. We were constantly together and I don’t think I’ve been in amongst sort of that team spirit before anywhere else.
You have not only managed to grace the Wembley turf but you have scored numerous goals there, what is it like to score at the home of football?
As a kid growing up, I unfortunately never got the chance to go to the old Wembley, but obviously you see it on TV with Euro 96 and other games that were played there. I think as a player that's always your dream - to play the National Stadium and obviously such an iconic one as well.
To go down in 2007 was an unbelievable achievement, so to go back with Oxford, I mean, the difference between playing in the Conference and the EFL is a big difference and we wanted that as much as the fans did - it was massive for the club.
We found out at the reunion a few months ago that it started to get critical for a club get get back into the Football League just for the finances, and it is where the club wanted to be. Luckily for us, we didn't know too much about the issues off the pitch, I think it would have heaped more pressure on us, but for us as players we were just focused on on going out there doing the job.
You finished one goal shy of breaking the goalscoring record at Oxford United, do you look back and think I wish I would have broken that?
Of course, I scored a hat-trick against Chester as well which was chalked off when when they went to administration, so at the time it didn’t seem that important, but then as time goes on, getting past the 100 mark, I knew I was seven or so away from the record and I was just slowly ticking them off.
As a striker you want to break records, you want to be the top goalscorer, you want to be the person that people look up to.
So for me, it was disappointing to leave one goal short. I would love to have left as the all-time top scorer, but to be in amongst the names that have played for the football club like John Aldridge and other massive players to have played at the football club for is a fantastic honour.