Oxford United wrapped up Second Division title on this day in 1985...

NO team had ever won successive titles to go from the Third Division to the top flight, but ‘consolidation’ was not a word in Jim Smith’s vocabulary.

Steve Biggins had finished the previous season as United’s top-scorer, but this was not a side which stood still.

By October he was gone, unable to get into the team as John Aldridge was partnered with fellow new signing Billy Hamilton to devastating effect.

The former hit seven goals in as many games to fire the Division 2 new boys second in the table at the end of September.

ARCHIVE: Oxford United sealed Third Division promotion 36 years ago today

And while the cup runs could not quite match the previous year’s exploits, a 3-2 win against Arsenal in the third round deepened the Manor Ground’s love affair with the Milk Cup.

Kevin Brock said: “They were incredible times because we were playing such good football.

“I just remember attacking towards the London Road End and we were just battering sides.”

The goals kept flowing – 19 were rattled in during four successive home wins against Leeds United, Charlton Athletic, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace.

It needed something remarkable to stop them, which is exactly what happened in a 2-1 defeat at Fratton Park just before Christmas.

A fan dressed as Santa Claus ran on to the pitch and in the time added on for the stoppage Alan Biley scored twice.

Smith’s side bounced back with four straight wins at the turn of the year to lead a table where the top four had the same points.

United had up to four games in hand on those just below, but they frittered away the advantage in a five-game winless run.

It included their only home defeat of the league campaign, against promotion rivals Birmingham City, but Aldridge – who else – settled the nerves with a brace in a 4-0 win against Wimbledon in the following game at the Manor.

Another double from the striker helped down contenders Manchester City 3-0 to ensure United were firmly back on track.

It was the start of seven wins in the next eight, which ended with Dave Langan’s volley beating Shrewsbury Town 1-0 to secure promotion with four games to spare.

The full back was a fitting hero, having been given a free transfer by Birmingham City the previous summer after knee and back operations.

He said: “This time last year I nearly quit, but I always believed I could carry on and now I’ve proved to myself and to (Birmingham manager) Ron Saunders that I was right to keep going.”

Smith added: “This is better than our wildest dreams. We’ve gone out and beaten teams by playing good football.”

Aldridge’s 29th and 30th league goals of the season saw Barnsley routed 4-0 on the final day to ensure United were the first team to win back-to-back championships.

Herald Series:

  • United’s supporters line the streets of Oxford for the celebratory bus parade in 1985

It was a magnificent achievement, although the news coming through of a fire at Valley Parade which killed 56 people dampened the spirits.

At United’s second open top bus parade in 12 months, Smith said: “What’s happened at Bradford has taken the edge off the celebrations a little bit.”


November 24, 1984

Oxford Utd 5 (Aldridge 3, Briggs, Hamilton), Leeds United 2

A YEAR and a day after losing 4-1 in the Milk Cup, Leeds United were again on the end of a hiding at the Manor Ground.

But if the first result was a shock, this pulsating game should have come as no surprise.

Oxford United were top of the Second Division on goal difference, while Eddie Gray’s side were four places and five points further back.

Leeds took charge when Tommy Wright and Peter Lorimer put them 2-0 ahead midway through an eventful first half.

But a theme of United’s rise up the divisions was their ability to come from behind and a powerful Gary Briggs header was followed two minutes later by Billy Hamilton’s effort to level the scores.

The game was held up when U’s goalkeeper Steve Hardwick was hit by a coin thrown by fans in the away end, who also tore down a television camera gantry.

Watching on was FA secretary Ted Roker, who was “absolutely sickened” by the trouble, while Hardwick said: “I was frightened for my life. It is a tragedy that the headlines are going to be about the crowd trouble and not the fact it was a fantastic game.”

When play restarted, the second half belonged to the hosts – and John Aldridge in particular.

The striker bagged a hat-trick to continue his sensational campaign and beat Leeds, who had Lorimer sent off for an incident which also saw Aldridge booked.

Smith suggested “industrial language” had led to a second booking for the midfielder, but the pair appeared to have made up after the game.

“I can’t believe it, Lorimer’s signed it,” said the U’s striker, clutching the match ball which had been autographed by the Scot.

Oxford Utd: Hardwick, Langan, McDonald, Trewick, Briggs, Shotton, Rhoades-Brown, Aldridge, Hamilton, Hebberd, Brock.

Attendance: 12,192.