Oxford United 1-0 Chester (15/11/80)
My first experience of live football was courtesy of my Uncle who, appreciating my early football mad leanings, for an early birthday present asked me to pick a game from the fixture list nearest my 11th birthday in spring 1977. This being pre-Internet I looked through my dog-eared copy of the Rothmans year book (an essential purchase in those days) and for some inexplicable reason I chose West Ham v Manchester City at Upton Park! Whether it was my wish to see Billy Bonds, Colin Bell or Trevor Brooking escapes me but I do remember nothing before or after can compare to the excitement I felt in anticipation of my first ever trip to both London & a “big” game. The joy of the age that we now live in has enabled me with a few clicks of a mouse to ascertain that the date of this monumental event was 12th March 1977 and resulted in a 1-0 win for the Hammers
Until I was old enough to start going regularly to my local club with mates my own age my annual trip to a live match saw us watch Nottingham Forest in the year they came up and won the 1st Division (v Leeds) in 1978, as well as a night game in North London with Arsenal v Spurs at Highbury from which I can vaguely remember Liam Brady being a different class to anything I had ever seen before.
At the age of 14 though and at the start of year 3 of secondary school I started regularly going to the Manor without adult supervision! My first recollection of being aware of Oxford Utd was a couple of years earlier in October 1978 when aged 12 Oxford were drawn at home to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round of the League Cup. I can remember the build up to the game at school and how some of the older kids were talking up Oxford’s chance of actually beating the current 1st Division Champions. In the event Oxford got beat 0-5 however I see that the crowd that barmy October evening was 14,287. I wonder how many of those in attendance that night came in to the Abbey school the next day and bragged of chasing Forest fans round the streets of Headington!
My first visit to the Manor was 6 weeks before Christmas 1980 and little would I know that due to unbelievable good timing that after being bitten by the bug I’d have the privilege to watch some of the best football I would ever see and be witness to the most successful period in my club's life. Memories of this particular Saturday winter afternoon are non-existent but I can remember catching the bus to Gloucester Green and then walking from town up Headington Hill with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and fear. My mate Nicky, you see, although the same age was a veteran of the London Road and the experience of going to football in the late 70’s & early 80’s was a totally different experience to today!
The history books (or rather the excellent search facility on the Rage Online website) show the result as being a 1-0 win to Oxford with 2,526 in attendance. It’s fair to say a golden season in the club’s history this was not! I wish I could remember Joe Cooke’s winning goal. It could have been a 35 yard screamer, a bullet header or a 2 yard scuffler, maybe only Joe himself can remember! The hazy memories I do have of that game include walking up to the London Road entrance for the 1st time, the banter between Roy Burton and the London Road regulars and the London Road singing a fairly amusing song with the words “boots into Asprey’s head” to the tune of “Oops upside your head”, a popular number at school discos at the time.
Bill Asprey would only last 5 more weeks and 5 days before Christmas 1980 he would be sacked. Looking back through my programme collection from the early 80’s I can see that, although I missed the next couple of games, soon after I did start going regularly, attending both the Colchester and Sheffield Utd matches in early 1981. Ian Greaves replaced Bill Asprey but within 12 months he too would be gone and a certain Jim Smith would be appointed.
Before long my teenage self would witness first hand the transformation of this average 3rd Division side into one of the best sides in the country, albeit from the relative safety of the Beech Road. The 1980/81 season already saw a 23-year-old Malcolm Shotton playing alongside a 21-year-old Gary Briggs in the centre of defence and a 18-year-old Kevin Brock learning his trade in midfield. It was though another 18-year-old who really captured my imagination & made me want to spend my hard earned pocket money on visiting the Manor. One Andy Thomas. For those who never witnessed him playing in an Oxford shirt, you really did miss out. On his day, he was one of the best players to grace that famous sloping pitch.
If there is one thing I would do if I ever stumble across Michael J Fox's DeLorean it would be to set the dial for April 1986 and have a quiet word with Maurice Evans when we were 3-0 up at Wembley and say “come on Maurice, give Thomo 10 minutes!”
Now where did I put that Manor Memories DVD?