Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ Series. In this edition, we take a look at goalkeeper Simon Eastwood.
Eastwood came through the youth academy at Huddersfield Town. He made just one senior appearance for the Terriers before loan spells at Woking and Bradford City in the Conference and League Two respectively.
When Oxford United secured promotion back into the Football League, he joined the U’s after being made available for transfer by Huddersfield. However, he failed to make a senior appearance for the club, with Ryan Clarke a mainstay in the U’s team.
Eastwood was released after just one season but returned to the club in 2016 after spells at FC Halifax Town, Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers. He has gone on to make over 200 appearances for the club and has become one of the U’s most consistent players throughout that period.
Returning Players – Simon Eastwood
First Spell at Oxford United
The first spell for Simon Eastwood at Oxford United was non-existent in terms of appearances. That was down to the impeccable form and reliability of number one goalkeeper Ryan Clarke.
The shot-stopper turned out 49 times in all competitions as the U’s won promotion back into Football League with promotion via the Conference play-off final against York City.
Unfortunately for the 20-year-old Eastwood, upon his arrival, Clarke continued that extraordinary form into the new season and turned out in all 50 games that the U’s played. At the end of the season, Eastwood was released, despite having one year left on his contract.
Teams Eastwood Played for in Between
Following his release, Eastwood dropped down to divisions and turned out for Halifax in the Conference North. He missed just three games all season, turning out 43 times in all competitions as the Shaymen reached the play-off semi-final, losing out to Gainsborough Trinity.
Despite agreeing on a contract with Conference North side Bradford Park Avenue, Eastwood joined League One side Portsmouth less than a week later after impressing during a trial.
He made 30 appearances in all competitions but it was a season to forget for the club, who entered into administration and finished their campaign bottom of the league. Eastwood played as many games as he did largely down to him being the club’s only goalkeeper for part of the season.
Despite being offered a new deal, Eastwood rejected the approach and joined Blackburn Rovers in the Championship. However, with the likes of former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Jake Keane and Jason Steele at the club during his time in Lancashire, Eastwood was limited to just 20 appearances over three years.
Return to Oxford
Signed by Michael Appleton, who he briefly worked under at Portsmouth, Eastwood made a return to Oxford. Unlike his previous spell where Ryan Clarke had cemented the number one spot, Appleton was undecided between Sam Slocombe and Benji Büchel.
Similarly for Eastwood, he joined the season after the club have secured promotion, with Appleton guiding the U’s to League One the season before.
Eastwood came straight in as number one, so much so that Slocombe was released while Büchel failed to make an appearance, with Eastwood turning out 62 appearances in all competitions. The club reached the Football League Trophy final, but lost out to Coventry City, and reached the fifth round of the FA Cup following a 3-0 win over Newcastle United, in which Eastwood saved a penalty, before losing to Middlesbrough in the next round.
The following season, despite two managerial changes and a change in ownership, Eastwood played in 52 of the 54 games the club played.
In 2018/19, in what was Karl Robinson’s first full season in charge, Eastwood managed 41 appearances but missed 18 games. This was down to injury, suspension and rotation for the lesser cup competitions.
Last season, as the U’s finished fourth and reached the League One play-off final, Eastwood turned out 38 times. As before, Jack Stevens came in for the Football League Trophy games while Jordan Archer came in on a short-term deal to cover for seven games while Eastwood missed out through injury.
Eastwood entered this season – his fifth at the club – still as Robinson’s first choice. But, after a run of 14 League games without a clean sheet and several costly errors, the 31-year-old was dropped, with Stevens having been his replacement since.
Eastwood is out of contract in the summer. Although he has been a loyal and consistent figure at the club, it seems highly unlikely he will be an Oxford United player next season. Despite that, he managed an impressive 67 clean sheets from 215 Oxford appearances.