#WFC1982 – Les Taylor & Oxford United

Women’s Super League, Division 2
Oxford United Women’s FC v Watford Ladies FC
Sunday, 27th July 2013, 2pm
The Northcourt (Abingdon United)
Entrance £5, Programme £2
Distance 55 miles, Attendance 302
“Oxford were the only club to offer me an apprenticeship.”
I could read these words for all eternity and, still fail to grasp how this could be possible. Granted 1974 scouting networks weren’t what they are now but, Les Taylor’s subsequent sixteen year playing career – including four seasons at the top – is more than most of us can even wish for.
Like Eric Steele, Les Taylor began his career at one of the country’s hotbeds of footballing talent; the Wallsend Boys Club. Moving south along with Mick Tait, Les settled quickly at Oxford United. Playing his first team debut at right back – before eventually “playing my natural position in midfield” – he progressed to being their then youngest ever captain and, a respected fans’ favourite.
Speaking with Les, and watching him interact on matchday, it’s fairly clear this affinity was and is genuinely mutual; he even views his transfer away from Oxford pragmatically, “Keith’s [Cassells] performances were very good for Oxford, so the deal was a good one”.
He may have enjoyed success elsewhere but twelve years later – following his retirement from playing – it was again Oxford that brought him back into the footballing fold. Although the Manor Ground had hardly changed in his absence, personnel had. Those that remained also needed to show some mettle when the club fell into severe financial difficulties. Initially starting with a coaching role “working in the community”, Les went for six weeks without pay during this period. Once a new owner was found, he was however appointed Youth Development Officer.
Though modestly admitting he still has a long way to go before becoming the next Tom Walley, Les spoke with pride at the success of local boys. Finance may limit what can realistically be achieved however; the advantages of a new ground and training facilities, coupled with the desire to progress are plainly evident.
His main role is still as the club’s Boys Academy Manager but he is now also “Technical Director of the Girls Centre of Excellence and Women’s first team Manager.” which has to his delight afforded him more time back out on the training pitch. As a consequence he now speaks with equal pride of his knew charges in the Women’s side as he does “the likes of Dean Whitehead, Sam Ricketts and Dexter Blackstock, all of whom began with Oxford”.

140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (2)w

Arriving at the impressive facilities of The Northcourt early, local resident Les was already busying himself for matchday. Switching seamlessly between genial host and efficient tactician, no questions were turned down, no duties left undone.
140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (169)wBoth before kick-off and after the final whistle, Les and his staff assisted in another “Fan Experience Day”. This wonderful initiative sees local junior sides invited to games, for tours and coaching, to meet the players and be ball girls. Standing near Kidlington U10s – watching them clamour for autographs afterwards – it was clear the knock-on effect could be huge for United.
Following an intense warm up, on a fantastic surface, Oxford got off on good footing. Winning the toss, for the first fifteen minutes they didn’t look overawed by the strong Watford opposition; United survived a early mix-up in defence and even pressured the visitors from corners. Going one up on the quarter hour however – Stacie Donnelly just getting a touch and lobbing the onrushing keeper, Demi Lambourne – the visitors, like their fans, seemed always on top.
140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (142)w
Though Les had expressed pleasure they’d be at the game, once the buoyant 1881 had perched themselves under the covered terrace between the dugouts, it was clear making himself heard above the din might be problematic. That said, Oxford were extremely unlucky to concede a second just prior to the interval. Lambourne beat out Jo Wilson’s first strike but once Kate Natkiel fed her the rebound, she made no mistake the second time around.
After the break, the game became much more open and even. Until the dying moments Watford would only have a couple of shots; both brilliantly tipped over by Lambourne. Up the other end, Lauren Davey also had to be right on top of her game. Strong in her area for much of the afternoon, she required even more agility to keep Oxford at bay.

140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (12)  140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (70) 140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (42)  140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (149)

 “Graham Taylor was and still is a major influence on how I manage. They are certain ideals/standards that he had which I like to incorporate. I also still use his set-plays for the women’s team.” he’d informed me. Whatever he said, clearly both Les’ influence and experience over the halftime oranges worked well. Their movement improved and openings appeared. Showing it may be possible early on, captain Sahara Osbourne-Ricketts’ pass deftly split the Watford midfield towards sub Louise Fellows but, Chloe Gunn’s last ditch interception was equally precise.
140727 FAWSL2 Oxford Ladies v Watford Ladies (100)wFellows may have missed out that time however just minutes later she’d found space and rifled a low drive to Davey’s right. At 1-2 you’d have been forgiven for thinking they could have easily gone on to save the game; sadly this was not to be. There were reckless challenges and deserved bookings for both sides, but in the main this was an entertaining encounter with many positives. If Helen King had scored at the death, it would also have had a fairytale ending for Oxford.
Of course Les would like to see success come sooner but, there is a clear understanding that the Oxford Women’s team is a long term project. Following three promotions in three years, I heard how they’d become “used to winning” but were, despite creating chances, struggling to find form against tough opposition.
Forming a good stable backbone Oxford have Osbourne-Ricketts, Kat Nutman and Jemma Connor-Iommi; they also have exciting prospects in Rosie Lane, Laura Nichol, Chloe Bruce and Ella Franklin-Fraiture coming through.
It may not always be the case however, thankfully this season – with no relegation from the division – Oxford are afforded a Super League grace period. Les Taylor may be their humble custodian of this current crop but, whilst he is determinedly at the helm, the mutual loyalty ensures the future of Oxford Women looks decidedly bright. And if the words of his parents, fans and colleagues are anything to go by, there is much support for what he and the club are trying to achieve.
Final score: Oxford United Women FC 1-2 Watford Ladies FC
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.
WFC1982 Les Taylor programme (1)1   WFC1982 Les Taylor programme (1)2
Posted in #WFC1982, 2014-2015, Women's Football, Women’s Super League | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WFC1982 – Jimmy Gilligan & Newport County FC

Pre-Season Friendly
Newport County AFC v FC Carl Zeiss Jena
Saturday, 26th July 2013, 2pm
Newport Stadium, Spytty Park
Entrance £15, Programme £3
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 136 miles, Attendance 2630
It’s hard to explain why I am now wandering round, quite publicly, in a County-Jena t-shirt – a shirt that commemorates two teams I don’t support and a match I never attended – but it feels good.

140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (39)w

At the start of the 80s – in the midst of my Taylor-inspired yellow world – Gavin arrived in my South Bucks school. With a thick Welsh drawl and an amber and black scarf, he stood out dramatically amongst us spotty adolescents. Obsessed with football, this was the catalyst for Newport County entering my consciousness.
Though back then, all three of the four major Wales clubs had their day in the sun, with the new decade; it was Newport and Swansea that were stealing the show. Swansea, under Toshack, went from bottom to top and back again, however the most romantic story was being played out 50 miles east.
Having justly qualified for the last eight in the 1981 European Cup Winners Cup – with John Aldridge injured – on the 4th March, County travelled to East Germany to face a team containing most of its national side. For the Welshmen getting this far was a real achievement; when Tommy Tynan levelled in the 90th minute the national media started really paying attention to this Welsh fairytale.
Six years to the day later, Jimmy Gilligan came to the end of his loan period with County. Though some of the shine had rubbed off the club since their European success, this wasn’t seen as a bad move for Gilligan; Newport were still the highest placed Welsh team in the entire league, and they also afforded him, he explained “a much better chance of first team football”.
In Watford’s 1982-83 Official Handbook; Graham Taylor had said that Jimmy Gilligan and the other juniors “are young players who we must now be looking at, to come through and start challenging for a first team place.” Despite some incredible performances for the Hornets, Jimmy had to look elsewhere to succeed in his “challenging”.
In 1986 his side, Swindon Town, were riding high. He himself had scored five in 13 appearances however; being “top heavy with strikers” Jimmy explained that “Lou Macari often shuffled his pack. There was never any guarantee of being on the team sheet.” So, to reach that goal Taylor had spoken of, Jimmy went out on loan.
Commuting daily – as his son Ryan had just been born – Jimmy worked hard to impress. Whilst he was completely familiar with their recent fame, Jimmy insisted first team football was his sole motive. A month later – having helped County stem their slide, in five good appearances – Jimmy was sadly on his way back to Wiltshire.
Then County manager John Lewis desperately wanted Jimmy’s signature however serious financial irregularities, at the time of Jerry Sherman’s involvement on County’s board, made this ultimately impossible.
Newport would eventually be relegated that season but, who knows what would have happened had Gilligan stayed. Club historian Andrew Taylor was adamant “the fans would’ve loved him to sign but the money was not there.” Jimmy himself told me he’d have been happy to stay on at the South Wales club.
In County’s first team, Gilligan felt he was moving forward again. Though he remembers little of the actual matches, even now he speaks with pleasure of his relationship with Lewis and the side. For Jimmy, John Lewis had “excellent man management. He could push all your buttons but he also talked to you and listened.”
Of his team mates he explained “There were no high flyers; just an honest, very working class group, with a special togetherness.” Having not felt so at Swindon; Jimmy loved the ritual Friday afternoons at the local cafe, for curry and chips, and unparalleled banter. In particular, he singled out the late Mark Kendall (goalkeeper) as both “a great bloke” and “one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.” Having been to the Jena rematch, it was a sense of camaraderie I could easily identify with.
Though in 1981 away goals may have seen Newport through to the Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final, eventually going out 0-1 in the home leg only tells half the story. The game was so one-sided; tales of being one of the 18,000 crammed into Somerton Park will be retold down endless generations. Having seen the highlights again – just to double check my ailing memory – County keeper Gary Plumley wasn’t wrong when recounting, “I think of it as the result that never was – we annihilated them.” And with that wonderful folklore was created.
In the subsequent years both Jena and County fell on hard times. Now residing in their respective fourth tiers, for the clubs and fans alike, this encounter still means everything.

140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (89)w 140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (253)w 140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (94)w 140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (305)

With the pitch at Rodney Parade “not quite ready” – Somerton Park is now a pleasant housing estate – ninety minutes before kick-off, well over a thousand Germans with hundreds of banners, were gathering at Spytty Park. One continental visitor would explain that the interest is sustained for two reasons; because of the mutual affinity made in 1981 and because they have “no chance of playing in Europe again.”
In the ground this unity was demonstrated wonderfully with side-by-side merchandise stalls, filled bar areas, and fans totally mixed everywhere one looked. Before kick-off, as he teams warmed-up, visiting fans were permitted photo calls on the running track and speeches were given on behalf of both the respective towns. Raising the goodwill even further, at half time, players from the original tie were lauded by all sections of the crowd.
140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (123)In wonderful weather, the match was played out in equally good spirits. Both County and Jena attacked in delightfully gun-ho fashion and when they wilted everyone stopped for water breaks and conversation. Even the second half streaker – eventually covered by Lenny Pidgeley’s towel – wasn’t removed from the ground.
Behind their banners, songs rang out from supporters as their new heroes wowed respective fans with commitment and effort. Compared to the day itself, looking back, it’s probably fair to say the result was irrelevant. Though this time just a Darren Jones goal separated the sides, both had great chances and afterwards fans and players alike, congratulated each other on the continued special relationship these club share.
140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (189)wDemonstrating that football can be played in a fantastic environment, this was an almost perfect season opener. Both Newport County and Carl Zeiss Jena should be rightly proud of their endeavours. Moving en masse afterwards, to Rodney Parade, Jena fans – on a pilgrimage – had photographs taken in Newport’s new home, as joint celebrations continued late into the night at a family fun day. Having soaked up more emotive football than most fans see in a season, just before leaving, the last thing I noticed was Chief Executive, Dave Boddy, rightly surveying the festivities with obvious pride.
140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (332)wA few days back, Jimmy Gilligan admitted being “really chuffed to see them [Newport] back in the Football League”. If he’d have witnessed this continued special fellowship – not dissimilar to that which he so enjoyed – I’ve no doubt it would’ve bought back fond memories of his time at County.
They may not all have commemorative merchandise but everyone, will leave Newport County with their own special memories. T-shirt aside, for me, nothing could be more poignant than the warmth of the half time embrace, between the scorer (Lothar Kurbjuweit) and keeper (Gary Plumley) of that decisive 1981 goal.

140726 PSF Newport County v Carl Zeiss Jena (223)w

Final score: Newport County AFC 1-0 FC Carl Zeiss Jena
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.
WFC1982 Jimmy Gilligan programme (1)   WFC1982 Jimmy Gilligan programme (2)
Posted in #WFC1982, 2014-2015, pre-season friendly | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment