LIFE was at a low ebb when Caesar Doyle fled his native Northern Ireland during the troubles and headed for a safe haven in Oxfordshire.

He arrived just before Christmas 1971 with his wife Lorna, sons Justin and Reuben, two suitcases, £200, no home and no food, wondering what the future would hold.

Forty years later, now back in the province, he is full of praise for the kindness he and his family were shown by the people of Wantage and Grove.

One of those he will never forget is the late Ruth O’Hanlon, founder of Grove Challengers Football Club, who, he says, “helped me in my hour of need”.

The family’s first home was a condemned caravan in Garston Lane, Wantage.

Mr Doyle writes: “It was damp, water ran down the walls, smoke from the fire came into the room and when you opened the roof window to let the smoke out, you froze. The mattress and cushions were soaking wet.”

He got a job as a milkman, received three days’ pay on Christmas Eve and the family enjoyed “a wonderful Christmas dinner” of half a chicken and potatoes.

Mr Doyle recalls: “We moved to a better caravan and loved the area, people were kind and helpful and we were determined to make a life for our two boys, away from the troubled land we had come from.

“I loved the job – it kept me fit and gave me time to be with my two sons. We had a roof over our heads, a job and a base to start a new life. Soon, nothing became everything!”

After a spell back in Northern Ireland and then in London, the family returned to Grove, where Mr Doyle took over as landlord of the Bay Tree pub.

It was there that he rekindled his friendship with Mrs O’Hanlon, a customer on his milk round.

“She was running Grove Challengers and asked if our boys could go to the field for football. I was soon roped in and got involved in my first love – football.

“The Bay Tree car park was our training ground, and the local kids turned up, rain, hail, sleet or snow. It was a wonderful release from hawking large barrels of beer around the cellar.”

The Challengers invited 100 young footballers from Northern Ireland to Grove in 1977, and two years later, were invited to send a party to the province, where they won all their matches.

From his home in County Down, Mr Doyle writes: “To the people of Wantage and Grove, too numerous to mention, where I spent the lowest and highest points in my life, and to the boys, parents and supporters of Grove Challengers, I would like to say – thank you.”

Of Ruth O’Hanlon, he says: “Everyone looked to this lady to provide a stage on which their boy wonder could play football. She never turned one away, and became a mother not only to my two boys but to a whole village of soccer-mad kids.

“Her spirit lives on in the parents and children who have carried on this unrewarded work.”

• Next week – the Challengers’ visit to Northern Ireland