DAVID Langan, arguably Oxford United's greatest ever right back, is now living the life of a virtual cripple.

The Republic of Ireland international is one of those players who seems synoymous with the Manor Ground and was one of the best crossers of the ball ever to play for United.

Whenever one thinks back to the club's "Glory Years" in the mid-Eighties, images of Langan's overlapping runs down the right as the U's attacked the London Road end - almost always finished off by a made-to-measure cross - flash through the mind.

Yet the former United defender is fighting a constant battle against pain ten years after quitting the game.

The 42-year-old Dubliner has undergone right knee operations and two spinal fusions after cracking his vertebra.

He is now registered disabled and is unable to partake in any physical exercise apart from a few lengths of breaststroke in the local swimming pool.

If he picks up his seven-year-old daughter he has to put her down straight away because the pain in his back is so severe.

"I've been in the wars and I'm still suffering from day to day," said Langan, who now works as a porter for Peterborough City Council.

"The sciatica problems in my back can strike up at any time. It's crazy, you just don't know when they might return.

"I take pain-killers regularly which help in the short term. I have to go into hospital to have a spinal epidural, similar to what pregnant ladies have when they're about to have a Caesarean.

"Basically the bones have worn away and it's a situation I have had to face up to."

Langan first suffered back problems when he was at Birmingham. He was recovering from one of his knee operations when he cracked the vertebra.

"I was doing about 200 upper-body exercises each day in the gym at the club to keep my strength up. I was on the mat when I suddenly felt my back go. I was still on crutches because of my knee. It was a devastating setback. The pain was horrendous."

When he was manager at Birmingham, Jim Smith smashed his club's transfer fee to sign Langan from Derby. With his injury problems, the player missed all of the 1983-4 season and was given a free transfer by successor Ron Saunders - only to be re-signed by Smith at Oxford.

Langan regained fitness, winning Division 2 and Milk Cup winners' medals with United and earning a recall for the Republic of Ireland.

"After a short spell at Bournemouth I went to Peterborough where my back went again and I had to have a second spinal fusion.

"The surgeon took one look at the X-rays and told me to finish playing immediately otherwise I could have ended up in a wheelchair.

"Because I had a history of problems with my knee and my back, Peterborough couldn't take out an insurance policy on me. "My knees are still an awful mess. I've got no cartilage in my left knee and I suffer from serious arthritis. But it's my back which is the biggest worry.

"I can't do any serious lifting at work or at home and if I pick my young daughter up I have to put her down quickly before the pain gets too bad. "What really hurts is not being able to participate in any forms of sport - apart from the odd bit of swimming.

"I was a fitness freak during my playing days. If I returned home to Dublin I would take myself straight off to the local park to train by myself."

Langan admits he doesn't get paid much for working as a porter for the council at one of the hospitals but the once-chirpy Irishman is still looking on the bright side.

"At least I managed to buy a nice house with the money I saved from my playing days. And the team I played for as a teenager, Cherry Orchard, have organised a benefit match on my behalf this summer.

"David O'Leary and Jim Smith have already sent some signed shirts from Leeds and Derby for me to raffle. Hopefully I'll make a few bob which will help my family in the years ahead."

Story date: Wednesday 19 May

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.