Arthur Turner’s men finished in fine style to win the Third Division 52 years ago today...

JUST like their first Football League promotion, Oxford United caught the Third Division unawares at the third attempt after two bottom-half finishes.

While they lost Tony Jones and Tony Buck to Newport, Mike Bullock arrived for a club record £10,000 fee from Birmingham City and Ken Skeen joined from Swindon Town.

For the first half of the season, United were reliant on a bulletproof record at the Manor, where they reeled off eight league wins on the bounce.

The winter brought a full two months without a victory, but with no-one able to break clear at the top, they managed to stay on the fringes of the promotion race.

Their big issue had been away from the Manor. Incredibly, it took until their 18th game on the road to claim a victory – 1-0 at struggling Grimsby Town, thanks to John Evanson’s effort.

ARCHIVE: Oxford United sealed first Football League promotion 55 years ago

With the monkey finally off their backs, United hit the accelerator.

The victory at Blundell Park began a six-game winning run, which transformed United from long-shots in ninth to bona fide promotion candidates in second place.

Derby draws with Swindon Town – watched by almost 18,000 at the Manor and then 16,000 in the reverse fixture – sandwiched a 1-0 defeat at Orient in a hectic four-day period over Easter.

That holiday hiccup saw the U’s drop out of the top two, having played a game more than most of their rivals.

But again they found another gear. Skeen’s solitary goal beat Tranmere Rovers at the Manor, before Bullock’s brace helped United to a 4-0 win at Stockport County.

With others stumbling, the U’s went top with 180 minutes of the season remaining.

Fortunately, both games were at their Manor stronghold. The 17th win from 22 attempts arrived with a 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion, courtesy of goals from Graham Atkinson and Bullock.

It came days after Graham Atkinson had signed a new contract, ending a saga where he had been on the transfer list since October.

Incredibly, both he and brother Ron almost joined Shrewsbury six weeks earlier. Given their influence, it is hard to imagine United could have finished so strongly, with the Shrews – who finished third – the most likely to have taken their place.

But the U’s had Ron’s wife Jenny to thank for at least one of the moves collapsing, after she had reportedly said no to a move.

The Brighton victory meant that United were all-but assured of promotion to Division 2, having been a Southern League team in 1962.

“If you had told me that six years ago,” manager Arthur Turner said, “I would have called you mad!”

But the job was only truly finished a week later, when David Sloan’s goal beat Southport in a scrappy final game to clinch the title a point ahead of Bury.

Oxford Mail:

  • Oxford United are all smiles after securing promotion at Southport, with (from left) Arthur Turner, Ken Skeen, Ron Atkinson, Jim Barron, Colin Clarke and Colin Harrington showing their delight outside the dressing rooms

Rockets were fired from the middle of the pitch in celebration after the game, while the fans, with an eye on under-fire Prime Minister Harold Wilson, chanted: “Wilson out, Turner in!”

A jubilant Turner said: “We have achieved the impossible and this is a marvellous time for Oxford United, it’s players and everyone connected with the club.”

Their remarkably rapid rise was summer up by top-scorer Bullock, who in between pinching himself said: “I’m still waiting for someone to tell me it isn’t true.”


April 26, 1968

Stockport County 0, Oxford Utd 4 (Bullock 2, Clarke, Harrington)

WITH just a fortnight of the season remaining, five teams were still in contention for the two promotion spots.

While there was a three-way tie at the top, the other pair met at Edgeley Park on a pivotal night.

Played on the Friday, United knew a win would take them into the top two and pile the pressure on those in action a day later.

But Stockport still had an outside chance of promotion themselves, thanks to a win against leaders Bury four days earlier.

The visitors rode their luck early on, but Colin Clarke settled the nerves with the opening goal in the 13th minute when he headed in a Graham Atkinson free-kick which had been re-taken.

Mike Bullock struck either side of half-time, the first from an acute angle before he rammed home Graham Atkinson’s pass to make it 3-0.

Colin Harrington, having one of his best games for United, added a fourth on the hour with a terrific strike which flew in off a post.

“Absolutely splendid – we murdered them,” Turner said afterwards.

“I am not saying too much about promotion at this stage, but let us say we fancy our chances.”

The significance of the result became quickly apparent. Bury lost at Tranmere on the same night, while the following day Shrewsbury and Torquay slipped up with draws to sides in the bottom half.

United had leapt from fourth to first – a position they would not relinquish.

Oxford Utd: Barron, Smithson, Lloyd, R Atkinson, Kyle, Clarke, Sloan, Skeen, Bullock, G Atkinson, Harrington.

Attendance: 8,098