Wingers Week Part 1: The rise and fall of The Glory Years

Sometimes we do things without knowing why. Why are we loyal to friends? We just are. Why do people fight for their country? They just do. These are things we take for granted. They are embedded deep within our psyche. Some Oxford fans will be wondering why they are feeling so keenly the news that Alfie Potter will be out for the rest of the season. The answer is simple; the Oxford fans’ love of a winger is deep within their DNA.

Many clubs have built mythologies around particular shirt numbers or positions; Manchester United’s number 7, Newcastle’s number 9, Brazil’s number 10. Although we’ve never seemed to make much of it, Oxford fans just cannot get enough of a man marauding down the wing with a trick or two down his shorts.

‘Chicken’ George Lawrence arrived from Southampton with Trevor Hebberd in 1982. George was a homoerotic dream, his shorts were like underpants, his enormous thighs, greased up, were like beacons, particularly under The Manor’s floodlights. He was like a young Emile Heskey, those of you who only know the old Emile Heskey may not consider this a compliment. But George, like Emile, was quick, muscular and unpredictable.

When he first arrived at The Manor he outshone the more subtle Hebberd, who eventually established his legend in a man-of-the-match performance in the Milk Cup Final. In a sense, Lawrence’s unpredictability was his undoing. Initially it was a weapon that defenders couldn’t deal with, however, better players learnt to back off him a little and give him the space to make a mistake. He never made the top grade with Oxford, but was very much part of The Glory Years’ story.

Kevin Brock had much of what Lawrence lacked; guile, craft and a metronomic ability to get the ball in the box. When I first started watching Oxford I thought every club had a Brock, and an Andy Thomas – local players with bags of class and ability. I assumed that was how it worked. 

Brock will be most remembered for a back-pass which allowed Everton a League Cup equaliser triggering for them a period of sustained success which included the League title, FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. But, his ignominious legacy overshadows the fact he was was an England Under-21 that won the 1984 European Championships. Plus, of course, he wore the number 11 in the Milk Cup Final. He even played in the Premier League with Newcastle in 1994 having been signed by Jim Smith. I only mention this because it surprised me.

Brock followed Jim Smith to QPR in 1987. Suddenly Oxford were without a regular winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown picked up the baton briefly, but dropped it on his foot forcing him into another 6 months on the sidelines. Rosie’s last goal for the club was in a massive goal-burp 4-4 draw against Chelsea. After that he disappeared never to be seen again.

Following our inevitable relegation from Division 1, the deluded yellows started rebuilding for a second crack at The Glory Years. It was never going to be the same. One of the champagne signings designed to catapult us back into the big time was Paul Simpson. His arrival coincided with my Ambivalence Years, where a lack of money, transport and better things to do meant my visits to the Manor were relatively few. Simpson scored a goal every three games over three years and was, y’know, good.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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