SOME of football’s biggest names gathered at a church in Woodstock to pay tribute to Oxford United legend Jim Smith.

The former U’s manager died last month aged 79.

This afternoon his family was by joined current U’s players and staff and Mr Smith’s contemporaries and friends throughout his football and managerial career.

Among those at St Mary Magdalene Church in Woodstock were three former England managers - Howard Wilkinson, Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren.

Oxford Mail:

They were among hundreds joining Mr Smith’s wife Yvonne, their three daughters Alison, Suzanne and Fiona and other family members for a celebration of his life.

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Mrs Smith, who married Jim in 1961, shared some of her memories which were read out to the congregation.

She said: “Life with Jim was never dull - he could always make us laugh.

“There was nothing he enjoyed more than having his family all around him , particularly in Spain where we lived for the last five years before his illness took hold.”

Oxford Mail:

Former England caretaker manager Mr Wilkinson met Mr Smith early in their footballing careers and then stayed close friends.

He told the congregation Mr Smith was at Sheffield United when he was invited for a trial there in 1959.

He added: “As a nervous 16-year-old I was shown into the dressing room - I feared the worst.

“Jim walked over with a huge grin on his face, shook my hand and wished me luck.”

Mr Wilkinson recalled that when they met afterwards over the years ‘there would always be friends and lots of laughter’.

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“Sometimes he would call me to congratulate me or commiserate - a true friend.”

Oxford Mail:

Oxford United legend Ron Atkinson told the congregation that Mr Smith liked celebrating a win with a glass of Rioja and a cigar.

He said: “Jim has this knack of getting away with things that the rest of us would get shot for.”

Mr Atkinson, who played 562 games for the U’s, recalled a club celebration at Minchery Farm after the team won a promotion when Mr Smith interrupted the entertainer, ventriloquist Roger de Courcey and his puppet Nookie Bear.

“Every joke the bear cracked Jim would crack it - Roger says ‘Ron will you tell him it’s only papier-maché’.”

Mr Atkinson concluded by saying: “What a lovely chap - to me he was a great bloke.”

Mr Smith’s son-in-law Andy Dawson also joined the tributes, saying Mr Smith was a ‘charismatic character with a huge thirst for life’.

Oxford Mail:

Jim Smith had two permanent spells in charge at Oxford United, but is best remembered for a thrilling first stint, which began in March 1982.

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He was at the helm as the U’s won back-to-back league titles, transforming them from a Division 3 side to the top tier.

But the Sheffield-born boss never got to manage the U’s in Division 1, as he resigned over a contract dispute with owner Robert Maxwell.

Oxford Mail:

He moved to Queens Park Rangers and, in a twist of fate, faced United in the 1986 Milk Cup final – always maintaining he knew Oxford’s side better than his own.

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Smith went on to manage Newcastle United, Portsmouth and Derby County.

But after a string of assistant manager roles he returned to United as part of a consortium which bought the club in March 2006 and returned to a directorial role in 2007.