In our Feature Article we look back at a great day for a former United hero.
So, here’s the thing. Long ‘feature’ articles are dead on the internet, right? Nobody reads anything if they have to scroll down, and unless you break it up with pictures, videos and polls then nobody bothers at all. So we made the decision to put the longer articles in to the match programme instead because people are willing to devote a bit more time and seem to enjoy interviews and our regular ‘On the Road’ pages. Well, it is certainly the lavatory reading of choice for many fans that we know…
And yet with clubs looking at the future of the matchday programme is there a future for features elsewhere? What we need is some data. We need to be able to track how many people read this article, how many click on the video or the images in the Gallery. So in the interests of research we are going to post a feature or two over the next couple of weeks, and then we will sit down, look at the figures and assess our assets. If you don’t like whimsical click away now…
Les Robinson’s Big Day Out
Midday on a Bank Holiday Monday and the sun beats down mercilessly on a brilliantly sunny Kassam Stadium. I am late; people have been here since 9 o’clock. People like Christine and Sue in the Ticket Office, Richard Blackmore, Mick Brown, Jonny Edmunds, the stewards, the turnstile operators. People who have given up a well-earned day off after a long season to come along and support one of the great servants of Oxford United.
Les Robinson never courted the headlines during his ten years at the club. He was the epitome of the solid right back (and occasional midfielder or sweeper) . “It was Billy Bremner who converted me to right back “ he says in the matchday programme. “He knew a midfielder when he saw one and moved me to defence!”
That’s typical Robinson by the way. A month ago I met him when he coached the club’s Walking Football team and his enthusiasm and knowledge were only matched by his ability to come out with sharp one-liners that kept everyone in line and made sure they paid him full attention. Good skills to have for a man who has spent the last 15 years helping teach youngsters with learning difficulties in a school near Banbury.
He’s the first person I see as I head for the tunnel today. Two hours before kick-off and he is already changed and ready to go, looking as trim as he did in his playing days and fussing around with his old teammate John Durnin who has helped put together the Liverpool Legends for today’s testimonial. Two of the most decorated footballers in British football are here: Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy, along with Paul Walsh off the telly, Michael Thomas and former Oxford manager Mark Wright - the first Gaffer I worked with at the club back in 2001 and the man who was in charge for the tricky transitional time between the Manor and the Kassam Stadium.
Two other ex Oxford bosses, Denis Smith and Malcolm Crosby are in charge of the United Legends today and their faces light up when John Clinkard, their former physio, turns up unexpectedly. He is among friends- Phil Gilchrist, Paul Kee, Joey Beauchamp, Chrissy Allen, Darren Purse, Stuart Massey, Matt Murphy, Jamie Cook- the home dressing room is full of great Oxford players of the past.
“Stuart I want you to sit in front of the back four” Denis tells Massey “Do I need to take my own chair out or will there be one?” comes the reply from the chirpy midfielder. “Chrissy, just do what you always do- we’ll figure out what that is later” continues Denis. “Joey, just play in the hole and volley a couple in from half way”
They go for a 'warm up' and Les Phillips and Alan Judge, stars of the Milk Cup winning side 32 years ago, are out there in the sun and primed for action. Matt Elliott turns up late due to traffic and nicks Liam Robinson’s shirt- the son of today’s star man is not happy “but I’m not going to tell him” he whispers to me, looking up at Elliott.
Meanwhile Phil Gilchrist’s son gets a free transfer to Liverpool, based on youthful energy. He later has to be subbed to look after his father when ‘Gilly’ ruptures his Achilles and has to be stretchered off, the one downer on the whole day (but happy to report he is OK).
There are 2,000 fans here, packing the South Stand Lower. James Constable, part of a different vintage, has driven up from the South Coast just to be part of it- he pays to get in with his family but can’t be persuaded to borrow some boots and join the action. He'd only have been sent off. You know how he gets. Current United boss Karl Robinson also resists calls for him to play, sitting in the shaded stand with his daughter and enjoying what turns out to be a very tight game.
It is decided when Paul Wanless drills home the only goal of the game after Kee has made two or three outstanding saves; “his best ever game” says Smith of the keeper later. Not to be outdone, Judge goes in goal and makes two worldies, diving at the feet of Durnin and somehow getting the merest of touches to take a Walsh effort onto the bar.
Ah yes, bar. That’s the keyword as the game winds down and presentations are completed. Les thanks his committee and the fans who have paid to play in the game. Hopefully the day is financially rewarding. But in all honesty it’s not been about the money. It was more about honouring the contribution that Les made during a decade in the yellow shirt. A humble, modest man he seems amazed at all the fuss and that these players all came along for his big day.
“I wouldn’t have come over for many” Kee, who lives back home on Northern Ireland says “but the moment Les rang I just had to do it for him.
“Having a player like Les in the side was massive for us “ Joey Beauchamp says. “ He is a great man and knowing he had your back just meant that some of us further forward could go out there and try and do little things.”
It has been a fantastic afternoon, brilliantly compered by Nathan Cooper, and the fans leave with smiles on their faces. It may have been a little slower than they remembered, but the Class of 96 have been reunited, augmented by so many other legends. They make their way to the bar, leaning on each other as much in friendship as due to the fact they can barely walk, grabbing a cold beer and raising a glass for Les Robinson.
Robinson’s Yellow Army. That may just catch on…