To The Manor Born

Well, adopted though not born there obviously.  There was always a certain pilgrimage in walking up Headington Hill to The Manor Ground, small and cramped though it was, to see 22 blokes kicking a piece of pigskin about a park.  Nothing however would persuade me to spend any time in Blackbird Leys / Greater Leys, let alone the Kassam ‘Stadium’ specifically.

Pictured above are Dave Langan, a Dubliner by birth and upbringing, showing why no real man would get a chest wax.  He is flanked to his left by Billy Hamilton, Belfast born and bred and to his right by John Aldridge, a Scouser who later became ‘Irish’ on account of one one of his great-grandmothers having been born in Athlone.  All three men played at senior international level, Hamilton being part of the Northern Ireland team which beat Spain in the 1982 World Cup Finals hosted by Spain.  There were plenty of journeymen footballers in the Oxford United team (like those of other small clubs) who never made international level and spent their careers around the middle and lower divisions just earning a living.  For their part the gentlemen in the above picture settled locally and had no problem ‘going native’, as it were.  Hamilton used to play Aunt Sally at his local pub in Wendlebury, where he was just another one of the lads.

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One of the reasons for posting these pictures is that the pin-stripe design of football shirts remains my favourite and I’d like to be able to get a replica of one of the above.  Even if I had bought one at the time, it probably wouldn’t fit me now anymore than the souvenir Division Three Champions t-shirt I bought for a few quid in the summer of 1984 from the club shop would do.  1983/84 and 1984/85 were good seasons to remember for anyone who supported Oxford United.  The former didn’t necessarily start off well as there was still a bitter aftertaste from when Robert Maxwell  – who had saved the club from oblivion in early 1982 – announced in April 1983 his decision to seek a merger with Reading FC, to form the risibly named ‘Thames Valley Royals’ with a new stadium in or near Didcot.  Unsurprisingly the idea failed and Maxwell in turn tried other football club acquisitions, eventually getting hold of the majority of shares in Derby County FC and installing one of his sons as chairman there.

People who speculate on the mediocrity of the England football team should surely recognise that the English league has always been well supplemented with players from Scotland, Wales and both parts of Ireland.  Essentially the English league has always been a British / Irish league.  Indeed the Oxford United team of the mid-1980’s included Aberdonian Bobby McDonald and later-on Swansea native Jeremy Charles.  It is only in the past couple of decades that players in the English league have come in substantial numbers from further afield.

Are you watching Birmingham?  We chanted after invading the pitch at the end of the last match of the season, in what had turned out to be a fateful day.  At the time the Blues were second in the table, two points behind, the only team who could steal the title from us.  Unbeknownst to me, there had been trouble at their St Andrews ground resulting in a lad of 15, who was attending his first league match, being crushed to death.  I only found out about this when I got home.  Worse than that, had been the fire at Valley Parade, Bradford City’s ground (where celebrations should have taken place for winning the Third Division title).  Again, I knew nothing about this until I got home.  In fact, it was only years later when undertaking fire safety training at work that I saw the film footage.  What I do remember was the chairman of Bradford City FC waffling on about the ‘image of football’ as if that were more important than the fact that more than fifty people had been killed in a football ground for which he was legally responsible for its and their safety.  Back then, especially on the final day of the season, there were always some people with a transistor radio, listening for half-time scores and final results, so some people at The Manor on that day must have known what had happened at these grounds.  In the Directors’ Suite the television would be on at half-time, so Robert Maxwell and the others must have seen the film footage from Bradford, but that didn’t stop them from celebrating at the end of the match as we the fans did.  The following day an an open-top bus parade (which I ignored) was held through Oxford followed by a civic reception at the Town Hall, although out of respect to those who had been killed the previous day, both should have been cancelled.  Thanks for reading.

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