To continue our series marking the anniversary of Oxford United's promotions, May 2 was a big day 36 years ago...

WHEN it comes to figuring out Oxford United’s greatest seasons, 1983/84 provides a powerful argument to be at the very top.

In addition to undoubted quality, there was quantity. United played 65 games across four competitions, with five players – Steve Hardwick, Trevor Hebberd, Kevin Brock, Malcolm Shotton and Paul Hinshelwood – playing at least 61 of them.

Jim Smith’s side set the pace from the very beginning, dropping just four points in the opening nine games to lead the division.

They managed to stay on track despite plenty of distractions in first the Milk Cup, where a thriller against Leeds United was surpassed in the next round against Manchester United, where a second replay was needed before Steve Biggins headed the underdogs through.

A fifth-round exit at Everton was matched in the FA Cup, where Sheffield Wednesday ended their run.

ARCHIVE: Promotion in 1964/65

United kept rising to the challenge, particularly at the Manor, where their only league loss came in March against Gillingham.

It was the last time they would taste defeat anywhere, as the best team in the division got stronger in the

run-in with the arrival of John Aldridge, who scored four goals in five appearances after signing from Newport County.

It quickly became a question of when, rather than if, United sealed promotion and the title.

“I’d put a million pounds on us at 6-4 on for promotion now, if I could borrow a million quid,” joked Smith after a 5-0 win at home to Bolton Wanderers on Good Friday.

The Easter schedule had them playing a day later at Eastville, but a 1-1 draw meant the champagne stayed on ice.

Aldridge scored at Eastville and again a week later, this time at former club Newport County, but another 1-1 draw prolonged the wait.

Promotion finally arrived courtesy of a goalless draw at home to Wigan Athletic on May 2.

Skipper Malcolm Shotton said: “You can’t begin to understand what this means to me.

“I worked in a factory and played in non-league. Now I’m leading a very good team into the Second Division. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Robert Maxwell did not stay at the promotion party for long, but his vice-chairman Bill Reeves said: “This ends ten years of waiting, but it’s all been worth it.”

Yet another draw, 1-1 against Exeter City, meant United’s title was only confirmed on bank holiday Monday, when Wimbledon lost 3-1 at home to Gillingham.

Smith said: “We would have liked to have clinched it in style, but we were happy for Gillingham to help us!”

United then beat Orient 2-1 to set a Football League points record, which they then improved with a 3-2 win at home to Rotherham United on the final day.

It was an appropriate finish to a scintillating season.


December 19, 1983

Milk Cup fourth round second replay, Manor Ground

Oxford Utd 2 (Lawrence, Biggins), Manchester United 1

Attendance: 13,912

RETURN of the Jedi had been released in the summer, but the best climax to a trilogy in 1983 came with this unforgettable night at the Manor.

A five-and-a-half hour epic was finally won in extra-time of the second replay, when Steve Biggins headed in Kevin Brock’s cross to see off Manchester United.

The tie had started three weeks earlier, also at the Manor, when Bobby McDonald cancelled out Mark Hughes’s opener.

It was also 1-1 in the first replay at Old Trafford, where Brock’s sublime free-kick was quickly matched by Frank Stapleton.

Manchester United wanted a neutral venue for the second replay, but U’s chairman Robert Maxwell held firm and it was decided on a toss of a coin at Lytham St Anne’s, the Football League’s headquarters.

Down the telephone line Manchester United secretary Les Olive called heads… and lost.

That meant a return to the Manor, where touts were selling the £3 tickets for £20. Dozens who could not get in watched from garden fences and even the roof of the bowls club, while Osler Road resident Steve Stansfield put up scaffolding for 20 fans to watch for free.

They saw United fall behind to Arthur Graham’s strike, before George Lawrence equalised.

Biggins’s winner sparked scenes to wild that normal conventions were broken – women were allowed into the boardroom.

While for visiting boss Ron Atkinson it was “in footballing terms, the worst result of my career”, U’s manager Jim Smith was ecstatic.

“It’s one of the great nights of my career,” he said

“I’ve been involved in some big games with my previous clubs, but the atmosphere and excitement was something special.

“It’s been a great Christmas so far, but promotion is still our priority.”

United: Hardwick, Hinshelwood, McDonald, Thomas, Briggs, Shotton, Lawrence, Whatmore (Biggins), Vinter, Hebberd, Brock.